George Frideric Handel

Born: February 23, 1685, Halle, Germany
Died: April 14, 1759, London

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- Musical Examples
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English composer, German by birth. Composed in all genres, but primarily remembered for his operas and oratorios.

George Frideric Handel began his life in Germany, the son of a barber-surgeon who wanted him to study law. He died an English citizen, the most renowned musical figure of his day and a national treasure. The career that led him there was, in almost every way, a complete contrast to that of his contemporary and fellow countryman, Johann Sebastian Bach (born less then a month after him). Where Bach composed for the church and for his patrons, Handel composed for the general public. Where Bach was primarily of man of God, Handel was a man of the world. And where Bach was a man who never left his native country, Handel was a world traveler.

Handel showed great musical talent at an early age, and his father allowed him to study with a local organist and composer. At age seventeen, the young Handel went to Hamburg, where he played violin in the opera orchestra. He was soon composing in the Italian style that he heard and played, and his first opera, Almira, was a rousing success. The next three years were spent in Italy, where his operas were extremely popular and where he continued to perfect his operatic style. He returned to Germany in 1710 to take the post of music director for the elector of Hanover, but almost immediately was invited to England to produce his opera Rinaldo. His return to Hanover was short-lived. In 1712 he again asked leave to go to England. His request was granted, but Handel never returned. In an interesting irony, the royal patron he left behind followed him to London in 1714 as the successor to the English throne, where he reigned as George I, the first of the Hanoverian kings. It was for his former employer that Handel wrote his Water Music .

In England, Handel continued to write operas in the serious Italian style, but his position as the leading operatic composer in England was soon challenged, first by the advent of a rival opera company (the Opera of the Nobility) and then by the development of a new and lighter style of the ballad opera. This latter style was begun by John Gay with The Beggar's Opera of 1728. As the popularity of Italian opera faded, Handel turned to another popular genre, the oratorio. Over the course of the next twenty years, he created a series of works that became some of the most popular in all of the Western tradition. Most famous among these was his telling of the life of Jesus, his Messiah (1742), and the "Hallelujah Chorus" from this work is arguably the most immediately recognizable piece of Western classical music.

Handel's output as a composer declined in his later years, but he continued to conduct and perform (he was a brilliant organist). Indeed, it was at the end of a performance of Messiah that he collapsed, dying three days later.

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Works

  • Operas (over 40), including Almira (1705), Rinaldo (1711), Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar, 1724), and Orlando (1733)
  • Oratorios, including Esther (1718), Alexander's Feast (1736), Israel in Egypt (1739), Messiah (1742), Sampson (1743), Belshazzar (1745), Judas Maccabaeus (1747), Solomon (1749), and Jephta (1752); other sacred vocal music, including Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (c. 1713), Acis and Galatea (masque, 1718), Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739), Utrech Te Deum (1713), anthems and Latin church music
  • Secular vocal music, including solo and duo cantatas; arias
  • Orchestral music, including Water Music (1717) and Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749); concertos for oboe, organ, horn
  • Chamber music, including solo and trio sonatas
  • Keyboard music, including harpsichord suites, fugues, preludes, airs, and dances.
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Musical Examples

Messiah, No. I, Overture
Listening Guide [pdf file - 497 KB]
03:12
Messiah, Nos. 14-16, There were shepherds
Listening Guide [pdf file - 497 KB]
01:20
Messiah, No. 17, Glory to God
Listening Guide [pdf file - 497 KB]
02:06
Messiah, No. 18, Rejoice Greatly!
Download MP3 [7.65 MB]
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Stream iLG
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Listening Guide [pdf file - 497 KB]
04:57
Messiah, No. 44, Hallelujah Chorus
Download MP3 [3.65 MB]
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Take Listening Quiz
Listening Guide [pdf file - 497 KB]
03:48
Mvmt 1, Allegro, from Water Music
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Listening Guide [pdf file - 507 KB]
02:18
Alla hornpipe, from Water Music
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Take Listening Quiz
Listening Guide [pdf file - 507 KB]
03:00
I know that my Redeemer liveth, from Messiah 06:07
Aria, Molto voglio from Rinaldo
Listening Guide [pdf file - 415 KB]
02:57
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Links

  • A General Biography
    Biographical article extracted from the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. Includes a small portrait gallery, a bibliography, detailed list of works, and an outline and text for Messiah (with audio clips).
  • A Basic Recording Library
    From the ClassicalNet site. A listing of recommended recordings of the basic Handel repertoire.
  • Handel's House in London
    Handel lived in the same house from 1723 until his death (interestingly, two centuries later (in 1969) Jimi Hendrix lived in the house next door for a short period of time). An online guide to the museum.
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