Handel, George Frideric


(originally Händel or Haendel), b Halle, Germany 1685, d Hanover Sq, London, Good Friday 1759. A youthful violinist at Hamburg, at first against his father’s wishes, he moved to Italy at 21 gaining keyboard reputation, 1706–1710. Coming to London with the Elector of Hanover whose Kapellmeister he was, and who became George 1 of Britain, he experienced mixed initial success. Much involved in composing and producing Italianate operas, which enjoyed great initial popularity in London, his lack of enduring success turned his mind to oratorio. While some satirised his ‘foreign fiddlers’, he was defended by the master-satirist Alexander Pope. He became a naturalised Englishman in 1727 and was finally established in his 50s as a harpsichord and organ virtuoso, and master of oratorio in a rich period between 1738 and 1749. The first, which helped to determine his future course, was Esther, long in draft but finally produced in 1731; the most notable 10 years later was Messiah with its Scriptural text arranged by Charles Jennens, performed first in April 1742 in aid of those imprisoned for debt in Dublin’s Marshalsea prison. Handel’s own favourite was Theodora. The final decade of his life was the most serene, as opposition (even to Messiah) was finally overcome, and he enjoyed a celebrity status and style not unlike that of his friend Dr Samuel Johnson. He composed further operas and much other music, the popularity of which probably peaked in the 19th c; some hymn-tunes have later been extracted from the larger works. Although Handel and Bach (qv) were almost exact contemporaries, their careers ran in very different directions, the former being the well-travelled, socially exalted, and more public composer for large audiences. Bach, too, seems to have been more even-tempered. They shared, however, the similar distress of blindness in their closing years. Among countless biographical studies, the entry in Great Musical Composers by G T Ferris (c1920, pp7–35) is notable for its vivid portrayal of the man and his times. Nos.3=590, 7, 460, 495, 638.

Tunes and arrangements by Handel, George Frideric

Tune Name