George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel (Friday, 23 February 1685 – Saturday, 14 April 1759) was a German-born Baroque composer who is famous for his operas, oratorios and concerti grossi. Born as Georg Friedrich Händel (IPA2|ˈhɛndəl) in Halle, he spent most of his adult life in England, becoming a subject of the British crown on 22 January 1727. [ [ British Citizen by Act of Parliament: George Frideric Handel] ] His most famous works are "Messiah", an oratorio set to texts from the King James Bible; "Water Music"; and "Music for the Royal Fireworks". Strongly influenced by the techniques of the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the English composer Henry Purcell, his music was known to many significant composers who came after him, including Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.


Handel was born in Halle in the Duchy of Magdeburg (province of Brandenburg-Prussia) to Georg and Dorothea (née Taust) Händel in 1685, the same year that both Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti were born. Handel displayed considerable musical talent at an early age; by the age of seven he was a skilful performer on the harpsichord and pipe organ, and at nine he began to compose music. However, his father, a distinguished citizen of Halle and an eminent barber-surgeon who served as valet and barber to the Courts of Saxony and Brandenburg, [Adams Aileen, K., Hofestadt, B., "Georg Handel (1622–97): the barber-surgeon father of George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)", Journal of Medical Biography, 2005, Aug;13(3):142–49. [] ] was opposed to his son's wish to pursue a musical career, preferring him to study law. By contrast, Handel's mother, Dorothea, encouraged his musical aspirations. [ [ Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary Composer Biographies] ]

Nevertheless, the young Handel was permitted to take lessons in musical composition and keyboard technique from Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau, the organist of the Liebfrauenkirche, Halle. His aunt, Anna, had given him a spinet for his seventh birthday, which was placed in the attic so that Handel could play it whenever he could get away from his father. [Deutsch, Otto Erich, [ "Handel: A Documentary Biography"] , Music & Letters, 36(3) (July 1955), pp. 269–72.] [Hird, Edward, Rev., " [ Rediscovering Handel's Messiah] ", April 1993, Deep Cove Crier, North Vancouver, B.C., Canada.]

In 1702, following his father's wishes, Handel began the study of law at the University of Halle, but after his father's death the following year, he abandoned law for music, becoming the organist at the Protestant Cathedral. In 1704, he moved to Hamburg, accepting a position as violinist and harpsichordist in the orchestra of the opera house. There, he met Johann Mattheson, Christoph Graupner and Reinhard Keiser. His first two operas, "Almira" and "Nero", were produced in 1705. Two other early operas, "Daphne" and "Florindo", were produced in 1708.

During 1706–09, Handel travelled to Italy on the invitation of Gian Gastone de' Medici, and met Medici's brother Ferdinando, a musician himself. While opera was temporarily banned at this time by the Pope, Handel found work as a composer of sacred music; the famous "Dixit Dominus" (1707) is from this era. He wrote many cantatas in operatic style for gatherings in the palace of Pietro Ottoboni (cardinal). His "Rodrigo" was produced in Florence in 1707, and his "Agrippina" at Venice in 1709. "Agrippina", which ran for an unprecedented 27 performances, showed remarkable maturity and established his reputation as an opera composer. Two oratorios, "La Resurrezione" and "Il Trionfo del Tempo", were produced in Rome in a private setting for Ruspoli and Ottoboni in 1709 and 1710, respectively.

In 1710, Handel became "Kapellmeister" to George, Elector of Hanover, who would soon be King George I of Great Britain. He visited Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici on his way to London in 1710, where he settled permanently in 1712, receiving a yearly income of £200 from Queen Anne. During his early years in London, one of his most important patrons was the young and wealthy Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, who showed an early love of his music. [Handel. A Celebration of his Life and Times 1685–1759. National Portrait Gallery, p. 92.] Handel spend the most carefree time of his life at Cannons and laid the cornerstone for his future choral compositions in the twelve "Chandos Anthems". [Bukofzer, M. (1983) Music in the Baroque Era. From Monteverdi to Bach, p. 333-335] Romain Rolland states that these anthems were as important for his oratorios as the cantates for his operas. He highly estimates also "Acis and Galatea", like Winton Dean, who writes the music catches breath and disturbs the memory. [Dean, W. Handel's Operas 1704-1726, p. 209.] During Handel's life time it was his most performed work.

In 1723 Handel moved into a newly built house at 25 Brook Street, London, which he rented until his death in 1759. This house is now the Handel House Museum, a restored Georgian house open to the public with an events programme of Baroque music. There is a blue commemorative plaque on the outside of the building. It was here that he composed "Messiah", "Zadok the Priest" and Music for the Royal Fireworks. (In 2000, the upper stories of 25 Brook Street were leased to the Handel House Trust, and after an extensive restoration program, the Handel House Museum opened to the public on 8 November 2001.)

In 1726 Handel's opera "Scipio" (Scipione) was performed for the first time, the march from which remains the regimental slow march of the British Grenadier Guards. He was naturalised a British subject in the following year.

In 1727 Handel was commissioned to write four anthems for the coronation ceremony of King George II. One of these, "Zadok the Priest", has been played at every British coronation ceremony since. Handel was director of the Royal Academy of Music 1720–1728, and a partner of J.J. Heidegger in the management of the King's Theatre 1729–1734. Handel also had a long association with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, where many of his Italian operas were premiered. [See E.A. Bucchianeri: "Handel's Path to Covent Garden: A Rocky Journey", (1stBooks / Authorhouse, 2002)]

In April 1737, at age 52, he suffered a stroke or some other malady which left his right arm temporarily paralysed and stopped him from performing. He also complained of difficulties in focusing his sight. Handel went to Aix-la-Chapelle, taking hot baths and playing organ for the audience. Handel gave up operatic management entirely in 1740, after he had lost a fortune in the business.

Following his recovery, Handel focused on composing oratorios instead of opera. Handel's "Messiah" was first performed in New Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin on 13 April 1742, with 26 boys and five men from the combined choirs of St Patrick's and Christ Church cathedrals participating. In 1749 he composed Music for the Royal Fireworks; 12,000 people came to listen. Three people died, including one of the trumpeters on the day after.

In 1750 Handel arranged a performance of "Messiah" to benefit the Foundling Hospital. The performance was considered a great success and was followed by annual concerts that continued throughout his life. In recognition of his patronage, Handel was made a governor of the Hospital the day after his initial concert. He bequeathed a fair copy of "Messiah" to the institution upon his death. His involvement with the Foundling Hospital is today commemorated with a permanent exhibition in London's Foundling Museum, which also holds the "Gerald Coke Handel Collection".

In August 1750, on a journey back from Germany to London, Handel was seriously injured in a carriage accident between The Hague and Haarlem in the Netherlands.cite book
last = Dent
first = Edward Joseph
title = Handel
origdate = 2004-06-17
publisher = R A Kessinger Publishing
id = ISBN 1-4191-2275-4
pages = 63
] In 1751 his eyesight started to fail in one eye. The cause was unknown and progressed into his other eye as well. He died some eight years later, in 1759, in London, his last attended performance being his own "Messiah". More than three thousand mourners attended his funeral, which was given full state honours, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Handel never married, and kept his personal life very private. Unlike many composers, he left a sizable estate at his death—worth £20,000 (an enormous amount for the day), the bulk of which he left to a niece in Germany—as well as gifts to his other relations, servants, friends and to favourite charities.


Handel's compositions include 42 operas; 29 oratorios; more than 120 cantatas, trios and duets; numerous arias; chamber music; a large number of ecumenical pieces; odes and serenatas; and sixteen organ concerti. His most famous work, the "Messiah" oratorio with its "Hallelujah" chorus, is among the most popular works in choral music and has become a centerpiece of the Christmas season. Also popular are the Opus 3 and 6 Concerti Grossi, as well as "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale", in which birds are heard calling during passages played in different keys representing the vocal ranges of two birds. Also notable are his sixteen keyboard suites, especially The Harmonious Blacksmith.

Handel introduced various previously uncommon musical instruments in his works: the viola d'amore and violetta marina (Orlando), the lute (Ode for St. Cecilia's Day), three trombones (Saul), clarinets or small high cornets (Tamerlano), theorbo, French horn (Water Music), lyrichord, double bassoon, viola da gamba, bell chimes, positive organ, and harp (Giulio Cesare, Alexander's Feast). [Textbook in CD "Sacred Arias with Harp & Harp Duets by Rachel Ann Morgan & Edward Witsenburg.]

Handel's works have been catalogued and are commonly referred to by a HWV number. For example, Handel's "Messiah" is also known as "HWV 56".


After his death, Handel's Italian operas fell into obscurity, save for selections such as the ubiquitous aria from "Serse", "Ombra mai fu". His reputation throughout the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, particularly in the Anglophone countries, rested primarily on his English oratorios, which were customarily performed by enormous choruses of amateur singers on solemn occasions. These include "Esther" (1718); "Athalia" (1733); "Saul" (1739); "Israel in Egypt" (1739); "Messiah" (1742); "Samson" (1743); "Judas Maccabaeus" (1747); "Solomon" (1748); and "Jephtha" (1752). His best are based on a libretto by Charles Jennens.

Since the 1960s, with the revival of interest in baroque music, original instrument playing styles, and the prevalence of countertenors who could more accurately replicate castrato roles, interest has revived in Handel's Italian operas, and many have been recorded and performed onstage. Of the fifty he wrote between 1705 and 1738, "Agrippina" (1709), "Rinaldo" (1711, 1731), "Orlando" (1733), "Alcina" (1735), "Ariodante" (1735), and "Serse" (1738, also known as "Xerxes") stand out and are now performed regularly in opera houses and concert halls. Arguably the finest, however, are "Giulio Cesare" (1724) and "Rodelinda" (1725), which, thanks to their superb orchestral and vocal writing, have entered the mainstream opera repertoire.

Also revived in recent years are a number of secular cantatas and what one might call "secular oratorios" or "concert operas". Of the former, "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day" (1739) (set to texts of John Dryden) and "Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne" (1713) are particularly noteworthy. For his secular oratorios, Handel turned to classical mythology for subjects, producing such works as "Acis and Galatea" (1719), "Hercules" (1745), and "Semele" (1744). In terms of musical style, particularly in the vocal writing for the English-language texts, these works have close kinship with the above-mentioned sacred oratorios, but they also share something of the lyrical and dramatic qualities of Handel's Italian operas. As such, they are sometimes performed onstage by small chamber ensembles.With the rediscovery of his theatrical works, Handel, in addition to his renown as instrumentalist, orchestral writer, and melodist, is now perceived as being one of opera's great musical dramatists.

Handel has generally been accorded high esteem by fellow composers, both in his own time and since. Bach apparently said " [Handel] is the only person I would wish to see before I die, and the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach." Mozart is reputed to have said of him, "Handel understands effect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunder bolt"cite book
last = Young
first = Percy Marshall
authorlink = Percy Young
title = Handel (Master Musician series)
origyear = 1947
date = 1975-04-01
publisher = J.M.Dent & Sons
id = ISBN 0-4600-3161-9
pages = 254
] and to Beethoven he was "the master of us all...the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb." The latter emphasized above all the simplicity and popular appeal of Handel's music when he said, "Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means."

He is commemorated as a musician in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on July 28, with Johann Sebastian Bach and Heinrich Schütz.

Handel's works were edited by Samuel Arnold (40 vols., London, 1787–1797), and by Friedrich Chrysander, for the German Händel-Gesellschaft (100 vols., Leipzig, 1858–1902).

Handel adopted the spelling "George Frideric Handel" on his naturalization as a British subject, and this spelling is generally used in English-speaking countries. The original form of his name (Georg Friedrich Händel) is generally used in Germany and elsewhere, but he is known as "Haendel" in France, which causes no small amount of grief to cataloguers everywhere. There was another composer with a similar name, Handl, who was a Slovene and is more commonly known as Jacobus Gallus.


ee also

* List of compositions by George Frideric Handel
* Handel Commemoration
* Gopsall
* Charles Jennens



* Burrows, Donald. "Handel." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-19-816470-X
* Deutsch, Otto Erich, "Handel: A Documentary Biography", 1955.
* Frosch, W.A., [ "The "case" of George Frideric Handel"] , New England Journal of Medicine, 1989; 321:765-769, Sep 14, 1989. []
* Harris, Ellen T. (general editor) "The librettos of Handel's operas: a collection of seventy librettos documenting Handel's operatic career" New York: Garland, 1989. ISBN 0-8240-3862-2
* Hogwood, Christopher. "Handel." London: Thames and Hudson, 1984. ISBN 0-500-01355-1
* Keates, Jonathan. "Handel, the man and his music." London: V. Gollancz, 1985. ISBN 0-575-03573-0
*Dean, Winton and John Merrill Knapp. "Handel's Operas, 1704-1726" (Volume 1) Oxford: Clarendon Press. (1987; 2nd Ed. 1994 (softcover) ISBN 0-198-16441-6
*Meynell, Hugo. "The Art of Handel's Operas" The Edwin Mellen Press (1986) ISBN 0-889-46425-1

Further reading

* Dean, W. (2006) [ “Handel’s Operas, 1726-1741”] (The Boydell Press)
*E.A. Bucchianeri: "Handel's Path to Covent Garden: A Rocky Journey": (1stBooks / Authorhouse, 2002).

External links

* [ Edward Dent's Handel biography from Project Gutenberg]
* [ The second volume of Winton Dean for "Handel's Operas" covering the years 1726-1741]
* [,+Friedrich/G.F.+H%C3%A4ndel Friedrich Chrysander's Handel biography (in German)]
* Handel Houses:
** [ The Handel House Museum]
** [ The Händel-Haus in Halle (Saale)]
*worldcat id|id=lccn-n79-129204

Scores and recordings

* [] Free Scores by Handel
* [ The Mutopia Project] provides free downloading of sheet music and MIDI files for some of Handel's works.
* Free typeset [ sheet music] of Handel's works from ""
* [ Handel cylinder recordings] , from the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara Library.
* Kunst der Fuge: [ George Frideric Handel - MIDI files]
* [ Water Music, Organ Concertos op. 4, Tamerlano, etc.] Creative Commons recordings
* Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sings [ Handel arias]

NAME=Handel, George Frideric
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Händel, Georg Friedrich
SHORT DESCRIPTION=German Baroque composer
DATE OF BIRTH=birth date|1685|2|23|df=y
PLACE OF BIRTH=Halle at Saxony-Anhalt
DATE OF DEATH=death date|1759|4|14|df=y

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • George Frideric Handel — Georg Friedrich Händel Georg Friedrich Händel (anglisiert: George Frideric Handel; * 23. Februar 1685 in Halle an der Saale, Herzogtum Magdeburg; † 14. April 1759 in London) war ein deutsch britischer Komponist in der Epoche des Barock. Sein… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • George Frideric Handel — Georg Friedrich Haendel Georg Friedrich Haendel Haendel par Balthazar Denner (1727) Naissance 23 février  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • George Frideric Handel — noun a prolific British baroque composer (born in Germany) remembered best for his oratorio Messiah (1685 1759) • Syn: ↑Handel, ↑George Frederick Handel, ↑Georg Friedrich Handel • Derivationally related forms: ↑Handelian (for: ↑Handel) …   Useful english dictionary

  • George Frideric Handel — ➡ Handel * * * …   Universalium

  • List of compositions by George Frideric Handel — The following is a list of compositions by George Frideric Handel.OperasOdes and masquesItalian triosEnglish songsMotetsAnthemsConcerti grossiTrio sonatasAppendixHWV missingHandel compositions not included in the HWV Catalogue.External links*… …   Wikipedia

  • George Frederick Handel — noun a prolific British baroque composer (born in Germany) remembered best for his oratorio Messiah (1685 1759) • Syn: ↑Handel, ↑George Frideric Handel, ↑Georg Friedrich Handel • Derivationally related forms: ↑Handelian (for: ↑Handel) …   Useful english dictionary

  • Handel, George Frideric — orig. Georg Friedrich Händel born Feb. 23, 1685, Halle, Brandenburg died April 14, 1759, London, Eng. German born British composer. Born to a barber surgeon in Halle, he showed a marked gift for music and studied organ, violin, and composition.… …   Universalium

  • Handel,George Frideric — Han·del (hănʹdl), George Frideric. 1685 1759. German born composer whose works include the English oratorio Messiah (1742) and the orchestral Water Music (1717).   Han·delʹi·an (hăn dēʹlē ən, dēlʹyən, dĕlʹē ən, dĕlʹyən) adj. * * * …   Universalium

  • Handel, George Frideric — (23 February 1685, Halle, Saxony, Germany – 14 April 1759, London)    With Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the supreme composers of the high Baroque, Handel was not by profession a church composer. He did write a number of anthems and smaller… …   Historical dictionary of sacred music

  • Handel, George Frideric —  (1685–1759) German composer, born Georg Friedrich Händel …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

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