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handel3.jpgThe Story of George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel was born in Halle, Germany. His father, wanting Handel to have a social position better than his own, determined that he should be a lawyer. Handel’s father went so far as to forbid any music or musical instruments in their home. Legend says that a small clavier was smuggled into the attic for Handel, complete with muffled strings, so that his father could not hear him as he taught himself to play.

When he was seven years old, he accompanied his father to Weissenfels where his playing on a chapel organ attracted the attention of the duke. The duke was so impressed by his skill that he insisted that Handel be allowed to study music, because it would be a crime to rob the world of such a great genius.

Handel returned to Halle to study with Friedric Wilhelm Zachau. Handel soon became a virtuoso on the organ and was widely known for his outstanding skill.

By the time he was 11 years old, Handel could play the harpsichord, oboe, organ and violin. He had already composed six sonatas and he served as assistant organist at Halle Cathedral. He entered Halle University in 1702 and began studying law, although he continued serving as a church organist.
In 1703 he quit his job at the cathedral, left the university and moved to Germany’s operatic center, Hamburg. He joined an orchestra there, playing second violin, and in 1705 he composed his first opera, Almira.

He visited Italy in 1707 and composed his first Italian opera. Soon afterward a production in Venice of his opera Agrippina, brought him fame throughout Italy. In 1710, Handel returned to Germany to serve as choirmaster to the Elector of Hanover (an elector is an important German prince). Shortly afterward he visited London, where his opera Rinaldo was so successful he was asked to remain in England.Composition: Battaglia (Battle Music) from the opera Rinaldo


This music depicts the battle between the European Crusaders and the Muslim Saracens for the city of Jerusalem.
Crusader battle charge
Instruments: string orchestra
Brass: trumpets
Woodwind: oboes
Percussion: timpani

A scene from Handel's opera "Xerxes" as it might have looked when first performed in 1737 in England.

He wrote Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, which won such favor from the public and the royal family, that the queen awarded him an annual salary of several hundred pounds.Composition: Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne

Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne


Composed as a duet for soprano and trumpet with strings and harpsichord.
In 1714, Queen Anne died and George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, became King George I of England. Handel composed the Water Music for a festival on the River Thames. The king liked this music so much that he gave Handel a yearly salary for the rest of his life.Composition: Water Music – Alla Hornpipe

Alla Hornpipe

Boats on the Thames
King George I

Instruments: introduced by string orchestra and oboes, repeated by trumpets and echoed by horns

Interesting fact: It is reported that the King liked this music so much that he had it repeated three times before the evening was through.

Handel began composing oratorios after he was 53 years old. Known as “Master of the Oratorio,” no composer before or since Handel has surpassed his ability in writing oratorios. An oratorio is a musical play based on a Bible story or scripture. It uses solos, ensembles and choruses to tell the story. Usually an orchestra or organ accompanies the singers. Unlike opera, it is not acted out with costumes or props.

The Messiah is probably the most famous oratorio ever composed. Handel wrote it during the summer of 1741 at a time when he was discouraged with his opera writing. After reading the words, Handel immediately set the work to music. In 24 days he had composed the entire score, a work that takes three hours to perform.
Messiah was first performed in Ireland for the benefit of several charities. Nearly two years later, it was performed with King George II in attendance. He stood in reverence when the “Hallelujah Chorus” began. Since no one could sit when the king was standing, everyone in the audience stood. Since that time audiences have followed the tradition of standing during the singing of the magnificent “Hallelujah Chorus”.Composition: Hallelujah Chorus

Hallelujah Chorus

King George II
A performance of Messiah

Written for full chorus, and full orchestra with trumpets and timpani.
Handel became a British citizen and when he died in 1759, he was buried in England’s most sacred place, Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey

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