Georg Friedrich Händel (1685 – 1759)

“Hndel is the greatest Composer who ever lived.

I bare my head and kneel at his grave.”

– Ludwig van Beethoven

On this day…

in the year 1685…

in Halle, Saxony…

…was born Georg Friedrich Hndel – a Musical genius of the highest order and the Composer`s Composer.

Hndel`s influence loomed large over the great Classical masters: Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven as well as those that followed them.

Hndel was a German-born, Baroque-era Composer who lived most of his life in England. He adopted the spelling “George Frideric Handel” upon his naturalization as a British citizen. His name is spelled “Hndel” in Germany and elsewhere – but “Hndel” in France, which causes no small grief to cataloguers everywhere.

From the tender age of seven, he was a skillful performer on the harpsichord and organ – at age nine, he began to compose Music. At age eighteen (in obedience to his father`s wishes) he began the study of law at the University of Halle but the following year he abandoned law for Music, accepting a position as Violinist in the Orchestra of the Opera House at Hamburg.

It was in Hamburg that his first two Operas, Almira and Nero were produced early in 1705. Two other early Operas (Daphne and Florindo) were produced at Hamburg in 1708.

From 1707-1709 Hndel traveled and studied in Italy. His Rodrigo was produced at Florence in 1707 and his Agrippina at Venice in 1708 – two oratorios (La Resurrezione and Il Trionfo del Tempo) were produced at Rome, in 1709 and 1710 respectively.

In 1710, Hndel became Kapellmeister to King George I of Great Britain. He visited London in 1710 and settled there permanently in 1712, receiving a yearly income of 200 from Queen Anne.

Hndel`s Opera Scipione was performed for the first time in 1727 – the march from which remains the regimental slow march of the British Grenadier Guards. He was also commissioned to write four anthems for the coronation ceremony of King George II. One of these, Zadok the Priest, has been played at every coronation ceremony since.

Hndel 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. Hndel also had a long association with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, where many of his Italian Operas were premiered. Hndel gave up Operatic management entirely in 1740, after he had lost a fortune in the business.

Losing his sight in 1751, Hndel died eight years later and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Hndel`s compositions include some fifty Operas, twenty-three oratorios, and a massive amount of Church Music, not to speak of his many superb instrumental pieces.

His best-known work of all is the Messiah, an oratorio set to the Holy Scriptures – it is customarily performed at Christmas-tide. Upon hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at the premier of the Messiah, Franz Joseph Haydn wept profusely and exclaimed, “He is the master of us all.”

Throughout his adult life Hndel was a devout Christian (of the Lutheran denomination) only missing Church attendance during rare bouts of sickness.

One particular Sunday, having attended worship at his small country Church, Hndel asked the organist to permit him to play as the congregation departed – to which the organist readily consented.

Hndel then began to play in such a masterly manner, as instantly to attract the attention of the whole congregation – who (instead of vacating their seats as usual) remained for a considerable space of time, fixed in silent admiration.

The organist began to be impatient and, at length, addressed the great performer, telling him he was convinced that Hndel could not play the people out, and advised him to relinquish the attempt – for while he played, they would never leave the Church.

Hndel responded, “Permit them to repose then, is there a better place to stay than in the LORD`s house?”

Music is often a subjective art, as tastes change with the times and the culture. You may despise what you will, but you cannot deny the power and majesty of the Music of Georg Friedrich Hndel.

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