George Frideric Handel

Handel in a 1733 portrait by Balthasar Denner

In honor of the Christmas season, my third composer is George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), born in Germany (Halle, Brandenburg-Prussia) and settled in London, becoming a naturalized British subject. He was trained in Italy and influenced by Italian Baroque and German Choral traditions.

A few interesting tidbits from his life are as follows:

  • According to John Mainwaring, his first biographer, “Handel had discovered such a strong propensity to Music, that his father who always intended him for the study of the Civil Law, had reason to be alarmed. He strictly forbade him to meddle with any musical instrument but Handel found means to get a little clavichord privately convey’d to a room at the top of the house. To this room he constantly stole when the family was asleep” (taken from a Wikipedia article on Handel).
  • He was a very good businessman, investing in the South Sea Stock, and starting three Opera Companies.  Even though, as business does, there were financial ups and downs  for Handel, he died a wealthy man.
  • He was a philanthropist, setting up a yearly benefit concert of the Messiah to benefit the Founding Hospital and giving to a charity for impoverished musicians and their families.
  • He wrote 42 Operas, 29 Oratorios, 120 other Choral works (cantatas, trios, duets, etc) and 16 Organ Concerti.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) stated  –  “Raphael paints wisdom, Handel sings it, Phidias carves it, Shakespeare writes it, Wren builds it, Columbus sails it, Luther preaches it, Washington arms it, Watt mechanizes it.”
  • Handel committed a lot of plagiarism, and when asked why, he said, “It’s much too good for him; he did not know what to do with it.” Another composer, William Boyce (1711-1779) said of it, “He takes other men’s pebbles and polishes them into diamonds.”
  • ” The figure of Handel was large, and he was somewhat corpulent, and unwieldy in his motion; but his countenance, which I remember as perfectly as that of any man I saw but yesterday, was full of ire and dignity; and such as impressed ideas of superiority and genius. He was impetuous, rough, and peremptory in his manners and conversations, but totally devoid of ill-nature or malevolence.” (Charles Burney, An Account of the Musical Performances…in Commemoration of Handel (1785))

Here is a sample of his work, Zadock the Priest, Coronation Anthem No. 1 (the most famous of these Anthems) and one that has always touched me.  This one was performed at the Queen’s Concerts, Buckingham Palace for her Majesty the Queen during her Golden Jubilee in 2002 – BBC Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Chorus conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.  I loved the video in the background of Queen Elizabeth’s actual coronation.

I have a list of some more of his works on the music page.

Research from this post came from the following sites –

http://www.gfhandel.org (for an in-depth look, and the source of many of the quotes)

Wikipedia (for a quick overview)

I will write more about his work, The Messiah, in the next post.

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2 thoughts on “George Frideric Handel

  1. Ok, so is the Water Music from Xerses the same as Umbria Mai Fu? I think they are. Because I found myself singing Ubria Mai Fu to the Water Music the other day. Hmmm?!

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