Handel George Frederick

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23.2.1685 – 14.4.1759


Born in Halle, Saxony, Germany, twenty-six days before the birth of J.S.Bach.  At the age of 12 he was assistant organist at the Halle Cathedral.  At the age of 18, after the death of his father who wanted him to study law, he moved to Hamburg where his musical career really started, becoming Court Conductor to the Elector of Hanover at age 25.  The next year he went to England and decided to remain there for the rest of his life, becoming England’s ‘national musician.’


At the age of 51 he suffered some sort of stroke with partial paralysis but was able to overcome this and at the age of 56 composed Messiah.  He also composed many other religious works, Israel in Egypt, Samson, Semele, Judas Maccabeus, Solomon, Joshua being among them.  His output was enormous: 41 operas, 13 pasticcios, 10 secular chorales, 21 oratorios, 2 passions, 250 other vocal works, 52 concertos, a dozen other orchestral works, nearly 150 chamber music pieces others that have not been catalogued.


In 1741 when many thought his career was finished, a writer by the name of Jennens sent him a collection of Biblical verses telling of Jesus, the Messiah.  The composition of Messiah was begun on 22 August  and for three weeks he did not leave the house, his servant bringing him food which was often left untouched.  One day, the servant came in to find Handel sitting at the table with tears streaming down his face while composing the Hallelujah Chorus.  He said “I think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself “.  Messiah was completed on 12 September, the instrumentation being finished two days later.


On 13th April 1742, a notice appeared in the Dublin papers about the first performance ‘The doors will open at eleven and the Oratorio will begin at twelve.  The favour of the ladies is requested not to come with hoops this day to the Musick Hall in Fishamble Street.  The gentlemen are desired to come without their swords.’  As predicted a capacity crowd filled the hall and hundreds more waited outside.


His remains were interred in Westminster Abbey and a memorial tableau shows him poring, pen in hand, over a page from Messiah.  It also depicts Handel in heaven.  I know – I’ve seen it! (the tableau, that is – not heaven…)



Sources: Pincherle History of Music; World Book; Herbage – notes on Messiah; Mary Batchelor’s Everyday Book.

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