famous composer Handel was born at Halle in Saxony in 1685, son of Georg
and Dorothea, and died in London in 1759. He worked first at the opera
house in Hamburg and spent several years in Italy before making his
first visit to London in 1710. By 1717 he had settled permanently in
England and in February 1727 was naturalized as an Englishman by Act
Handel made his reputation as a composer of Italian opera for the London
stage, but like most composers of the period, he wrote music for a wide
range of occasions and patrons. Some of his earliest works setting English
words - a birthday ode for the Queen and a Te Deum and Jubilate in celebration
of the Treaty of Utrecht – were performed before Queen Anne in
1713. The accession of George I caused Handel some embarrassment, however,
for he had previously been employed by the new king in Germany (where
George was Elector of Hanover) and had broken his terms of employment
by remaining in England. Fortunately, the new monarch forgave Handel
this misdemeanour and the composer enjoyed much royal patronage for
the remainder of his life.
The works that associate Handel most closely with Westminster Abbey
are the four anthems written for the coronation of George II in 1727.
The best known, ‘Zadok the Priest’, has been used at every
coronation since then, but all four continue to be regularly performed
and recorded. Handel also wrote an anthem, ‘The ways of Zion do
mourn’, for the funeral of Queen Caroline (George II’s consort)
who was buried in the Abbey in December 1737.
A less well-known link between Handel and the Abbey involves Esther,
the composer’s first oratorio, performed privately at the Crown
and Anchor Tavern in the Strand in 1732 under the direction of Bernard
Gates. Gates was Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, but he
was also a long-standing member of the Abbey’s choir and had assembled
a number of his Westminster colleagues to sing in the chorus.
Three days before his death in 1759 Handel signed a codicil to his will
saying he hoped he might be buried in the Abbey and desired that his
executor erect a monument for him. The funeral was attended by about
3,000 people and the choirs of the Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral
and the Chapel Royal sang the service. His gravestone in the south transept
reads “GEORGE FREDERIC HANDEL BORN YE 23 FEBRUARY 1684 DIED YE
14 OF APRIL 1759”. The date of his birth inscribed on the stone
is not a mistake but is due to the fact that the new year in England
at this period did not begin on 1 January but on 25 March (Lady Day).
Therefore, to the contemporary Englishman, Handel was born in February
1684, as the year 1685 would not have begun until 25 March. The coat
of arms on his gravestone is now very worn.
On the wall above his grave is a fine monument by the sculptor Louis
Francois Roubiliac (with the same inscription as on the stone but with
the dates in Roman numerals). The life-size statue, unveiled in 1762,
is said to be an exact likeness as the face was modelled from a death
mask. Behind the figure, among clouds, is an organ with an angel playing
a harp. On the left of the statue is a group of musical instruments
and an open score of his most well-known oratorio Messiah, composed
in 1741. Directly in front of him is the musical score I know that my
Above the monument a small additional tablet records the Handel festival
or ‘Commemoration’ of 1784. This series of concerts of Handel’s
music was given in the Abbey by vast numbers of singers and instrumentalists
and established a fashion for large-scale performances of Handel’s
choral works throughout the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth.
George Frideric Handel (German Georg Friedrich Händel), (February
23, 1685 – April 14, 1759) was a German Baroque music composer
who lived much of his life in England, a leading composer of concerti
grossi, operas and oratorios. His best-known works are Water Music,
Music for the Royal Fireworks and especially Messiah, an oratorio set
to texts from the King James Bible. He was also deeply influential on
many composers after him, including Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.
Handel was born at Halle in Saxony. He 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 barber-surgeon to the court of Saxe-Weissenfels,
opposed George Frideric pursuing a musical career, preferring him to
study law. Nevertheless, the young Handel was permitted to take lessons
in musical composition and keyboard techniques from Friedrich Wilhelm
Zachau, the organist of Liebfrauenkirche, Halle.
In 1702, in obedience to his father's wishes, he 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 Calvinist
Cathedral. The following year he moved to Hamburg, accepting a position
as violinist in the orchestra of the opera-house at Hamburg. Here 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. During the years 1707-1709 Handel travelled 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 Handel became Kapellmeister to George, Elector of Hanover, who
would soon be 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. 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 same 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 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. Handel gave up operatic management
entirely in 1740, after he had lost a fortune in the business. In 1751
he became blind, and died some eight years later in London. He was buried
in Westminster Abbey.
Handel's compositions include some fifty operas, twenty-three oratorios,
and a large amount of church music, not to speak of his superb instrumental
pieces, such as the organ concerti, the Opus 6 Concerti Grossi, the
Water Music, and the Fireworks Music.
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 adopted the spelling "George Frideric Handel" on his
naturalization as a British citizen. His name is spelled "Händel"
in Germany and elsewhere, and "Haendel" in France, which causes
no small grief to cataloguers everywhere. There was another composer
with a similar name, Handl, who was a Slovenian (without umlaut; so
not Händel). He was usually known as Jacobus Gallus.
Handel's works were edited by S. Arnold (40 vols., London, 1786), and
by F. Chrysander, for the German Händel-Gesellschaft (100 vols.,
Handel lived at 25 Brook Street, London from 1723 until his death in
1759. It was here that he composed Messiah, Zadok the Priest, and Fireworks
George Frederic Handel was born on February 23, 1685 in Halle, Germany.
His father was a barber surgeon that discouraged Handel's music interest
while his mother supported him. Handel tried the local university unsuccessfully
and dropped out after one year. He then left home and went to Hamburg.
There he conducted at opera houses and quickly became the second violinist
in the orchestra. Exposed to the Italian operatic style, Handel learned
all that he could and applied it to his first opera, Almira, which he
wrote at age 20. After his brief stay in Hamburg, Handel moved on to
Italy and stayed there for the next few years composing operas and oratorios.
When Handel left Italy he carried with him the reputation of a composer.
Handel's next move
was to England, where he eventually settled. There he was appointed
one of the musical directors of the Royal Academy of Music. In England,
Handel wrote many English operas including Julius Caesar. After the
success of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera that closed the Royal Academy,
Handel focused his attention on writing oratorios again. His Israel
in Egypt, Messiah, Judas Maccabaeus, and Jephtha were some of his best
works that were well received in that time.
suffered from cataracts that lead to blindness and suffered from a series
of paralytic strokes. Handel later died in London, England on April
14, 1759 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. One London papers wrote:
"Last night about Eight O' clock the remains of the late great
Mr. Handel were deposited...in Westminster Abbey...There was almost
the greatest Concourse of People of all Ranks ever seen upon such, or
indeed upon any other Occasion." Handel was a truly well known
and liked composer of his time.
Handel wrote his
music within the Baroque era. He used diatonic harmony with expressive
melodies and tone color for atmosphere and dramatic expression. His
operas were based on heroes and adventurers and his oratorios were choral
dramas using the Old Testament. Handel also produced instrumental works
such as his Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.