X. George Frederick Handel


Handel By Hudson 1748

German composer, born February 23, 1685, the second son of the second marriage of the pastor at Giebichenstein, near Halle. Handel was intended for a lawyer; but; in spite of his father's strenuous opposition, he secretly taught himself to play the harpsichord. In 1692, when Handel was seven years old, his father took him on a visit to his elder step-brother, valet at the court of Saxe-Weissenfels; here the boy gained access to the chapel organ, and was heard by the Duke, who insisted on his receiving a good musical education. Under Zachau, organist of Halle cathedral, he studied counterpoint., canon, and fugue, and practiced the oboe, spinet, harpsichord, and organ; he composed six sonatas for two oboes and bass, became assistant organist to his teacher, and, for three years, wrote a motet for every Sunday. In 1696 his father took him to Berlin, where his remarkable skill in playing and improvising on the organ and harpsichord excited the admiration of Ariosti and the jealousy of Bononcini . The Elector Friedrich offered to defray the expense of his musical education in Italy; but Handel's father declined, and returned with the boy to Halle. The following year (1697) the father died, and Handel after completing his studies at the gymnasium, entered Halle University (1702-3) as stud. jur. (in pious fulfillment of his father's desire), occupying, at the same time, the position of organist at the Moritzburg Calvinistic cathedral, with a salary of $50 a year, In 1703, however, he went to Hamburg, where he was engaged as violino di ripieno by Keiser , the director of the German opera, When Keiser was temporarily obliged to hide from his creditors, Handel took his place at the harpsichord with such skill that he was engaged permanently as clavecinist. His friendship with Telemann , the composer, and Mattheson, subsequently his biographer, was begun here. He wrote a Passion to words by Postel, and brought out two operas, Almira and Nero (1705); he was also commissioned by Keiser's successor, Saurbrey, to write Florindo und Daphne (1708), an opera filling two evenings.

In 1706, with 200 ducats saved from music-teaching, Handel went to Italy, visiting Florence, Venice, Rome, and Naples. In Florence (1707) he brought out his first Italian opera, Rodrigo, with Tesi, the afterwards famous singer, in the leading rôle. In Venice (1708), Agrippina created a furore and spread his fame throughout Italy. In Rome he produced two oratorios, La Risurrezione and Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno with the famous violin-virtuoso Corelli as leader; and in Naples the serenata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, remarkable for its bass solo for a voice of two octaves and a fifth in compass He made the acquaintance of Lotti, and Domenico Scarlatti, with whom he vied at the harpsichord and organ, Scarlatti admitting his supremacy at the latter. In Naples he met Alessandro Scarlatti, whose works exercised a strong influence on Handel. It was with regret that, in 1709, he returned to Germany. He accepted the post of Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, replacing Steffani, who had recommended him as his successor. In 1710 he visited England. His opera Rinaldo, ”composed” in two weeks by piecing together a number of arias, etc., of earlier date, was produced at the Haymarket Theatre with such success that he was pressed to remain in England, but had to return to his duties.

In 1712 Handel again obtained leave of absence, with the proviso “that he should engage to return in a reasonable time,” and traveled to London. Two new operas, Il Pastor fido and Teseo, were not specially successful; but an ode for the Queen's birthday, and a Te Deum and Jubilate in celebration of the Peace of Utrecht, won him public and royal favor, with an annuity of #200; and Handel conveniently forgot his Hanoverian position. On Queen Anne's sudden death in 1714, however, the E lector of Hanover became George I of England, and was not inclined to regard his absentee Kapellmeister with favor. The intercession of Baron Kilmanseck, and the production, of the “Water-Musick” by an orchestra at a royal aquatic fête, procured him regal grace, with a confirmation of his annuity,

In 1716 Handel went to Hanover in the suite of the King, and remained till 1718. He there composed his one German oratorio, the Passion, to the words of Heinrich Brockes' poem,

In 1718 he returned to England, and succeeded Dr. Pepusch as chapelmaster to the Duke of Chandos, in whose service he composed his first great English oratorio, Esther, the secular oratorio Acis and Galatea, and the Chandos Te Deums and Anthems. He was also music-master to the Prince of Wales' daughters, and wrote for Princess Anne his first collection of “Suites de Pièces” for harpsichord [ The Lessons ], which include the air with variations, “The Harmonious Blacksmith.” He was appointed director of the new Royal Academy of Music, established chiefly for the production of Italian opera, and in 1720 successfully brought out Radamisto, with Senesino and the celebrated Margherita Durantasti in the chief rôles (produced in Hamburg, 1721, as Zenobia ). H is success excited the envy of Bononcini and Ariosti , who had also been invited to London, and who each bad a following among the supporters of the Royal Academy. Matters were not improved by Handel's, independent spirit, blunt manners, and sharp tongue. Two factions arose, one supporting Bononcini and the other Handel, the rivalry extending to the singers on either side. This went on for several years; although Handel's work was the better, Bononcini was more in popular favor, and might have continued so, but lie was caught in an act of plagiarism which compelled him to leave England in humiliation (1731). During this period, Handel produced the operas Floridante (1721), Ottone, Giulio Cesare, Flavio (1723), Tamerlano (1724), Rodelinda (1725), Riccardo Primo (1727), Siroe and Tolemeo (1728).

In 1726 Handel received letters of naturalization, and in 1727 composed the four grand anthems for the coronation of George II and Queen Caroline. In 1729, after a visit to Germany and Italy, Handel associated himself with Heidegger, the proprietor of the King's Theatre, and inaugurated the season with Lotario, followed by Partenope (1730), Poro and Ezio (1731), Sosarme and Orlando (1732), when the partnership ended. In 1732 Handel gave a special production of his revised oratorio Esther, with success, followed by Acis and Galatea. In 1733 he brought out besides the above, the oratorios Deborah and Athaliah, at Oxford, where he publicly played the organ, and excited as much admiration by his performance as by his compositions; he received the degree of Mus. Doc, hon. causa. The same year, Handel undertook the sole management of opera, but his manners and methods, a quarrel with his principal singer, Senesino, and a raising of prices, caused many of his chief subscribers to suspend their support and start a rival troupe, “The Opera of the Nobility,” with Porpora , and afterwards Hasse , as composer and conductor. They took possession of the King's Theatre, and Handel first went to Lincoln's Inn Fields, and then to Covent Garden, but in 1737 failed, the rival house also having to close for want of support. The operas of this period were Terpsichore (1734), Ariodante and Alcina (1735), Atalanta (1736). Arminio, Giustino, and Berenice (1737); the ode Alexander's Feast [Dryden] was also produced at Covent Garden in 1736, and the revised Trionfo del tempo e della verità in 1737, Handel's superhuman efforts to hold his own, and his many difficulties during this period, caused a failing of his strength; a stroke of paralysis incapacitated one of his hands, his brain was overtaxed, and, by the urgent advice of his friends, lie went to Aix-la-Chapelle, whence he returned to London in November, 1737, with improved health. Heidegger had meantime formed a new company from the ruins of the two, and for this venture Handel wrote several operas: Faraniondo, Serse (1738), Jupiter in Argos (not perf.), Imeneo (1740), and Deidamia (1741).

This last date marks a decisive turning-point; he now abandoned stage-composition for the work to which he owes enduring fame--oratorio. The oratorios Saul and Israel in Egypt had been performed in 1739, also another important work, the Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, and, in 1740, the ode “L'allegro, il penseroso, ed il moderato.” In 1741, at the invitation of the viceroy of Ireland, Handel visited Dublin, and there produced his immortal Messiah on April 13th, 1742. Handel’s cordial reception in Ireland greatly compensated for previous disasters. On his return to London, He again became the popular favorite. The Messiah was followed by Samson, the Dettingen Te Deum, Semele, Joseph (1743); Belshazzar, and Heracles (1744). This year he was again involved in monetary troubles, and a year and a half elapsed before his Occasional Oratorio and Judas Maccabaeus were brought out (1746); then appeared Joshua (1747), Solomon (1748), Susannah (1748), Theodora (1749), The Choice of Hercules (1750), and Jephthah (1752; his last).

In 1750, for the third time, Handel had retrieved his fortunes, and revisited his native country. In 1752, during the composition of Jephthah, he was afflicted with failing eyesight, and underwent three unsuccessful operations for cataract, total blindness being the result. he continued his musical performances under the direction of his pupil John Christian Smith, and accompanied his oratorios, on the organ, up to 1759. On April 6, The Messiah was given as the final performance of the season, Handel presiding at the organ; on the 14th, the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, he died. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, where a monument by Roubillac marks his grave. Handel had a commanding presence, anti his features were animated and dignified. His health was usually robust. Of fearless independence, he was of a choleric temperament, and prone to forcible outbreaks, but he was easily restored to good humor, and possessed a fund of humor, and a ready wit. His liberality and charitableness were renowned. He remained unmarried, arid was never known to have fallen in love.

The grandeur and sustained power of Handel's oratorio-style, the expressive simplicity of his melody and the breadth and clarity of the harmonic structure, form a wonderful and (at his time) unexampled artistic whole, He is unquestionably one of the ”great masters.” His Messiah took England, and after her the rest of the musical world, by storm. At the first London performance, when the grand ”Hallelujah Chorus” rang out, the entire audience rose like one man, carried away by lofty enthusiasm thus originated the custom of standing during this chorus.

Handel was peculiarly fortunate in coming to England just as the ebb of English national stage-music after the death of Purcell (from whom he learned much) was turning toward the flood tide of Italian opera. His own dramatic works, also strongly influenced by Keiser in Hamburg and the two Scarlattis in Italy, vie with the finest of the period, and the best of them bear comparison with his oratorios. Precisely contemporary with J. S. Bach, he was quite outside the latter's sphere of influence, and no communication existed between them.

Many original MSS. of his works he bequeathed to his amanuensis, Johann Christian Schmidt; the latter's son John Christopher Smith, Jr, Handel’s pupil, presented them to George III. They are still in Buckingham Palace library, and comprise thirty-two volumess of operas., twenty-one of oratorios, seven of odes and serenatas, twelve of sacred music, eleven of cantatas and sketches and five volumes, of instrumental music. In the Fitzwilliam Collection at Cambridge are seven volumes containing, rough drafts, notes and sketches for various works; also a complete Chandos anthem, “O praise the Lord with one consent."

An edition of Handel's works in thirty-six volumes, by Arnold, was published by command of George III in 1786, but is incomplete and incorrect. A monumental edition of his works, completed in 100 volumess, was undertaken in 1856 by the German Händel Society, under the editorship of Dr. Chrysander. The current standard edition is the Hallische Händelsausgabe.

.-Biographical: Mattheson (1740, in the “Ehrenpforte”); “Memoirs of the Life of the late G. F. Haendel” Mainwaring (1760; German, with notes by Mattheson, 1761 French, by Arnauld and Suard, 1778); “G. F. Händel's Stammbaum,” Förstemann (1844); “The Life of Handel.” Schölcher (1857);” “Georg Friedrich Haendel” Chrysander (incomplete, 1858-67, when the first half of volume III appeared extending to (1740); “Händel und Shakespeare," Gervinus (1868); Life of George Friederich Handel.," Rockstro (1883); “Handel”(Streatfield 1909); “Haendel” Rolland (1910); “Handel” Young (1947); “George Frideric Handel” Lang (1966).

(The foregoing adapted from Baker's entry on Handel)


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