George Frideric Handel

Born in Halle, February 23, 1685;
died in London, April 14, 1759

George Friedric Handel was a German-born Baroque classical music composer responsible for many concerti grossi, operas and oratorios. He spent a majority of his life in Great Britain, becoming a British citizen in 1727. His most famous piece is Messiah a memorable oratorio composed around stories found within the King James Bible. He is also known for the famous Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. He set the stage for many masterful composers that came after him, including Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and his innovations on musical style helped bring about the switch from Baroque to purely Classical music.

Handel was born in Saxony on February 23, 1685, and like so many other great composers, showed profound musical talent at an early age. By seven, he was performing regular concerts on harpsichord and organ and was composing music by nine. His father, a court barber and a surgeon did not support Handel's musical career and asserted that he was to study the law. However, he allowed Handel to continue organized music lessons and specifically musical composition and keyboard techniques with a local, renowned organist.
 
Despite his love for music, Handel followed his father's wishes and went to law school at the University of Halle, but quickly abandoned this career path after his father's death in 1703. He took a job as the organist at the Calvinist Cathedral almost immediately and in 1704 moved to Hamburg to take a position as a violinist in the opera house orchestra. It was in 1705 that he wrote and debuted his first two operas in Hamburg, Almira and Nero. His other two operas came three years later, Daphne and Florindo. This period of his life was devoted to studying and composing for opera because of his extensive traveling in Italy, a country known for its excellence in the operatic genre. He studied the style extensively, but opera was banned by local authorities in Hamburg in 1709, and he was forced to alter his plans, deciding to compose sacred music that closely followed the structure of opera. He also found an outlet for his operatic expression in Italy, where he produced La Resurrezionie and Il Trionfo del Tempo in Rome in 1709 and 1710.
 
It was in 1710 that Handel accepted the position as Kapellmeister, or Concert Master to George, Elector of Hanover, soon to become George I, King of Great Britain. Handel followed George I to London in 1710 and decided to permanently settle there two years later, funded by Queen Anne. Here he found more outlet for his love of opera and wrote Scipio, performed for the first time in 1726; this ground-breaking piece of classical music is still the regimental slow march of the British Grenadier Guards. It was in this same year that Handel became a naturalized British subject.
 
Already a well-known composer and figure in British society, Handel was asked in 1727 to write four anthems appropriate for the coronation of King George II. One of the four pieces he created, Zadok the Priest has been played at every coronation ceremony in British history since. During the 1720's, Handel's musical career took off, and he was named director of the Royal Academy of Music as well as co-manager of the King's Theatre. He also maintained a relationship with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, a venue that happily premiered most of his Italian operas.
 
During his life, Handel composed fifty operas, twenty-three oratorios and a considerable amount of sacred and church music, along with instrumental pieces such as organ concerti, the Opus 6 Concerti Grossi, the lyrical yet stately Water Music and the Fireworks Music, often played at patriotic celebrations, not only in Great Britain where Handel lived most of his life, but also in other countries throughout the world.
 
In 1740, Handel suffered a significant financial loss in the opera industry and was forced to give up the opera entirely. He composed, but struggled to earn a living until 1751, when he became blind and could no longer work on his craft. He died eight years later in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey, a testament to his profound impact on the music and social fabric of England.
 
After Handel's death, his operas disappeared almost entirely from public performance, possibly due to the emergence of great operatic geniuses including Rossini, Mozart and Bellini and the changing nature of classical music. During the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Handel's reputation revolved around his English oratorios, performed typically by large choruses of amateur singers on somber and serious occasions. His oratorios include Esther, Saul, Israel in Egypt, Messiah and several others.
 
In the 1960's, baroque classical music came into popularity along with the original instrument playing styles of the baroque period, and many have sought to revive Handel's Italian operas, which are 50 in number and have begun to enjoy performances in opera houses throughout the world. Though many have still not entered the canon of opera standards, his finest opera, both vocally and orchestrally, Giulio Caesare, composed in 1724 is now considered mainstream and a permanent part of the operatic repertoire.
 
While Handel was during his time and the centuries following best known for his religious and sacred musical compositions, recent years have brought about a resurgence of interest in studying and performing his secular cantatas and oratorios. He wrote quite a few of these secular pieces based on texts of great writers of the time, including Ode for St. Cecilia's Day inspired by the texts of John Dryden and Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne. His secular oratorios used Greek mythology as a muse, and he produced works such as Acis and Galatea, Hercules and Semele. The musical style of Handel's secular classical music works is closely-tied to the style in his sacred oratorios, but adds the lyrical and highly dramatic spirit of his Italian operas. His sacred music is best performed as chamber music by small ensembles. The rediscovery of many of his theatrical works and his reputation of an instrumentalist has recently put Handel in a great operatic category alongside geniuses including Bellini and Rossini.