Georg Frideric Handel: "I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wish to make them better."
George Frideric Handel
Who was Handel? Fast and Friendly Guide
George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) was a German-British baroque composer, famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. Most music lovers have encountered George Frideric Handel through holiday-time renditions of the Messiah's 'Hallelujah' chorus or his Music for the Royal Fireworks.
Life and Music
- Handel was born in the German city of Halle on February 23, 1685.
- As a child he studied music with Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, organist at the Liebfrauenkirche, and for a time he seemed destined for a career as a church organist himself.
- In 1703 he took a post as violinist in the Hamburg opera orchestra, he fought a duel the following year with the composer Mattheson over the accompaniment to one of Mattheson's operas.
- In 1706 Handel returned to Germany to become court composer in Hannover.
- English audiences took to his 1711 opera Rinaldo, and several years later Handel moved to England permanently. He impressed King George early on with the Water Music of 1716, written as entertainment for a royal boat outing.
- Through the 1720s Handel composed Italian operatic masterpieces for London stages: Ottone, Serse (Xerxes), and other works often based on classical stories.
- In the 1730s and 1740s Handel turned to the oratorio which displayed to maximum effect Handel's melodic gift and the sense of timing he brought to big choral numbers.
- In 1737 Handel suffered a stroke, which caused both temporary paralysis in his right arm and some loss of his mental faculties.
- Blind in old age, Handel continued to compose. He died in London on April 14, 1759. Beethoven thought Handel the greatest of all his predecessors; he once said, "I would bare my head and kneel at his grave".
Did you know?
Handel's father did not approve of his son's love of music. His mother had to smuggle a small keyboard into the attic of their house. The young boy would play the instrument up there, in secret on his own, when his father was not around.
Handel: 15 facts about the great composer
George Frideric Handel led a passionate, eventful and occasionally tragic life - but how much do you really know? Our handy facts gallery will shed some light on the great composer's life.
Watch the incredible closing performance from this year's Bristol Proms
Discover more about Handel's Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, listen and watch the best recordings and download your favourites
Learn more about Handel's Organ Concertos Op. 7, watch and listen to different recordings and download your favourites
Discover more about Verdi's Otello, listen to recordings and download your favourites
Watch a unique Handel-inspired Christmas lights display from a very different performance of 'Messiah'.
Handel, Wagner and Britten make up Opera North's spring season, along with several other cultural and educational initiatives
Infectious, celebratory performances of Handel. Classic FM Drive Featured Album, 28 October 2013.
Handel's Water Music as it is rarely heard - as it was first performed. John Suchet's Album of the Week, 23 September 2013.
Top Handel Pieces
'Eternal Source of light divine'
- Conductor: Harry Christophers
- Ensemble: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
- Soloists: Elin Manahan-Thomas
- Record Label: UCJ
- Catalog: 4765970
- Conductor: Neville Marriner
- Ensemble: Academy of St Martin in the Fields
- Record Label: Duo
- Catalog: 470 044-2
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