Biography Of Handel, His Life And His Music

A biography Handel's life, and the wonderful music he brought to us. Many of his opera titles are included, as well as other works by him.

George Frideric Handel (British spelling) was born on February 23, 1685. He was born in Halle, Germany. His father was 63 at the time and a primary caregiver during Handel's early years.

Very little is known about Handel's early life. It is known that his father did not want him to study music (he wanted Handel to be a lawyer), but gave in reluctantly when he was urged to permit it. Handel entered into his lessons with F. W. Zachow, an organist, when he was still in grammar school. Under Zachow, he learned to play the organ, the piano and the violin. He was also taught composition and harmony.

It has been recorded that Handel was a friend of another composer, Telemann, since they were both relatively young. They later composed for the same or similar opera houses, and shared music. Along with other composers, they also borrowed ideas and did versions of each other's work.

In 1703, at the age of eighteen, Handel moved on to Hamburg, Germany. He was a second violinist in a local orchestra, and later became a harpsichordist. Here he met and became friends with Johann Mattheson. He lived with Mattheson for awhile in his parents' house.

When a position as an organist opened up, both Handel and Mattheson wanted it. However, one of the conditions was that they marry the current organist's daughter, who was not young. Both declined (as did Bach, two years later).

Though Handel primarily wrote operas (usually with a heavy Italian influence; he sometimes used German as well), he also composed sonatas (particularly in Hamburg), psalms, oratorios, and cantatas. His early musical style differs from his later one in that it was much more haphazard and used more dissonances (unpleasant tonal patterns).

After Hamburg, Handel went to Italy. He spent time in both Venice and Rome. Here, he did not compose many operas, because such was forbidden in Rome during the early 1700's. Still, he picked up many Italian influences, and used them in operas he wrote in Britain. Handel also wrote cannons during this time, which were sometimes part of an opera. Both Esther and Acis and Galatea were cannons. These used very little of the viola and the alto voice.

The famous "Water Party" was held on July 17, 1717. For this Handel wrote his "Water Music". It is said that the king adored the music so much that he ordered it performed three different times during the party (rumored to be twice before dinner and once after) though each performance was about an hour long.

After Italy, Handel then went to Britain. There, he and other composers (namely Bononcini) opened the Royal Academy. He worked with such singers as Senesino, Berselli, and Cuzzoni in the opera Radamisto (April 27, 1720, one of the first performed by the opera house). The academy unfortunately didn't make any profit, and closed in 1728.

Not to be deterred, Handel and the other composers borrowed the King's Theatre (he was a favorite of many British kings and queens) and opened again in the fall of 1729. Two of his operas, Lothario and Partenope failed quickly. After this, Handel relied mainly on revivals of popular operas. Several of these (some from Italy) were successes, as were some of his new operas (Arianna in Creta was). Eventually, though, this theater failed as well, in 1737.

Some of the operas Handel wrote had ballet with them, such as Alcina. The French ballerina, Marie Salle, danced this part. However, the ballet was cut out after the British public rejected Salle. She returned to France and never danced in Britain again. For the short time that ballet was popular, Handel added it to many previously performed operas. It was later subtracted again. Handel tended to treat much of his music in the same way, borrowing from one opera or changing the score radically after it had been performed.

In the early 1740's, Handel composed the still-famous oratorio, Messiah. In its first London performance, it was a failure. Many people were deeply religious at this time and considered theater and this type of work blasphemous. It was only after he performed it for free at a hospital that its popularity began to rise.

In 1745, Handel was ill. He continued to compose through his illness and eventually recovered from it. During this time, he composed several more little-known oratorios and other pieces. He also composed his "Royal Fireworks Music" (in 1749) during this time period. This was first performed in France.

Towards the end of the 1750's, Handel's health began to fail again. He still composed for awhile, and attended performances of various operas and oratorios even after he could no long compose. Finally, though, he was unable to get out of bed. He died on Saturday, April 14, 1759, at eight a.m. His final moments were at his house on Brook Street, near Grosvenor Square (he had moved there in 1723). This house still stands today. He was buried in the south section of Westminster Abbey, at a relatively private funeral, his last wish. He was seventy-four when he died.

Some of Handel's operas are as follows*: Almira, Jan. 8, 1705; Nero, Feb. 25, 1705; Florindo, Jan. 1708; Daphne, Jan. 1708 (these two were originally one opera, but were split in two after their failure); Rodigo, Nov. 1707; La Resurrezione, Apr. 1708 (this had a very large orchestra with 45 members); Agrippina, 1709; Rinaldo, Feb. 24, 1711 (performed 15 times during its first run, and was revived several times); Tersea, Jan. 10, 1713 (13 performances, but it was never revived); Silla, Jun. 2, 1713; Amadigi di Gaula, May 25, 1715; Te Deum, Jan. 14, 1713; Jubilante, Feb, 6, 1713; Ode for Queen Anne's Birthday, Feb. 6, 1713; Giulio Cesare, 1724; Tamelano, 1724; Rodelinda, 1725.

* - These dates are the dates that the operas were originally produced.

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