Monday, February 23, 8685

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Drama

George Frideric Handel (Georg Friedrich Händel, February 23, 1685, Halle, Germany - April 14, 1759)

[Handel's birthplace]

was born in the Duchy of Magdeburg (province of Brandenburg-Prussia) to Georg and Dorothea (née Taust) Händel in the same year of birth as both Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti.

G.F. displayed considerable musical talent at an early age; by the age of seven he was a skilful performer on the harpsichord and 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, was opposed to his son's wish to pursue a musical career, preferring him to study law. Handel's mother, however, encouraged his musical endeavors.

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.

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.


[Handel - Sarabande (c. 3:30) as orchestrated in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975)]

Keyboard Suite in D Minor (HWV 437) (1706) was first published in 1733.

The work consists of five movements:
I. Prelude
II. Allemande
III. Courante
IV. Sarabande (with two variations)

The above piece is featured prominently in Stanley Kubrick and Brian De Palma's films Barry Lyndon and Redacted.

V. Gigue


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 banned by the pope, Handel found work as a composer of sacred music; 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.

Two other early operas (or dramatic cantatas), Daphne and Florindo, were produced in 1708.

[Giovanni Biliverti (1585-1644 - Apollo e Dafne]

Apollo e Daphne (1708):

I. Overture

Handel's Agrippina (Venice, 1709), 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 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,

Rinaldo (1711, 1731)

Handel settled permanently in London 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 had a happy time and wrote a few of his best pieces for the Earl.

Be this point, he waas strongly influenced by the techniques of the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the English composer Henry Purcell.

Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (1713)

Water Music (1717)

VII. Minuet and Trio

VIII. Bouree. Presto

IX. Hornpipe

XI. Allegro

XII. A La Hornpipe

XVI. Bouree

XXI. Minuet (Coro)

Chandos Anthems (1718)

Esther (1718)

Acis and Galatea (1719)

[Handel House, 25 Brook Street, London]

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).


Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724)


Act I, Scene 1


Tamerlano (Tamerlane) (1724) (HWV 18) is an opera in three acts, with music by George Frideric Handel to an Italian text by Nicola Francesco Haym, adapted from Agostin Piovene's Tamerlano together with another libretto entitled Bajazet after Nicholas Pradon's Tamerlan, ou La Mort de Bajazet.

One of Handel's major works, he composed it in the space of 20 days in July 1724, in a year in which two more great operas were composed: Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda. Eve Meyer has noted how the role of Bajazet was one of the first major tenor roles in opera, as well as the place of the opera in the contemporary fashion for Turkish culture (turquerie).


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 naturalized a subject of the British crown the following year on January 22.

At this time, 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.


Violin Sonata No. 5 in G Minor, Op. 1, No. 10 (HWV 368) (1732)
(probably spurious [!])
I. Affetuoso
II. Allegro
III. Larghetto
IV. Allegro


[Handel in 1733]

Athalia (1733)

Deborah (1733)

Orlando (1733)

Concerti Grossi, Op. 3 (1734)

Alcina (1735)


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.

Xerxes (1738)

Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 (1739)

Israel in Egypt (1739)

Saul (1739)

Ode for St Cecilia's Day (1739)

Handel gave up operatic management entirely in 1740, after he had lost a fortune in the business.

Messiah (1741)


Early music version


W.A. Mozart orchestration

Ebenezar Prout orchestration

Following his recovery, Handel focused on composing oratoria 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.

Samson (1743)

Semele (1744)

Hercules (1745)

Judas Maccabaeus (1747)

Solomon (1748)

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.

In 1751 his eyesight started to fail in one eye. The cause was unknown and progressed into his other eye as well.

Jephtha (1752)

He died 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 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).

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 (Xerxes), "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. Among his best are those based on libretti by Charles Jennens.

Since the 1960's, 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), Giulio Cesare (1724), Rodelina (1725), Orlando (1733), Alcina (1735), Ariodante (1735), and Serse (1738) 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 the Birthday of Queen Anne (1713) and Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739) (set to texts of John Dryden) are particularly noteworthy. For his secular oratorios, Handel turned to classical mythology for subjects, producing such works as Acis and Galatea (1719), Semele (1744), and Hercules (1745).

In terms of musical style, particularly in the vocal writing for the English-language texts, these secular cantatas and oratorios have close kinship with the 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," and to Beethoven he was "the master of us all." 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.

Further Reading:

Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin
Music in the Western World: A History in Documents

Joseph Addison and Richard Steele
The Spectator (Pages 240-242)

Some Contemporary Documents Relating to Handel's Oratorios
(Pages 243-246)

[8685 - J.S. Bach / 8685 G.F. Handel / 8683 Rameau]