George Frideric Handel. 1685 - 1759. Handel. One of the greatest composers of the late baroque period (1700-1750) and, during his lifetime, perhaps the most internationally famous of all musicians. G. G. Handel.
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Handel was born February 24, 1685, in Halle, Germany, to a family of no musical distinction. His own musical talent, however, manifested itself so clearly that before his tenth birthday he began to receive, from a local organist, the only formal musical instruction he would ever have. Although his first job, beginning just after his 17th birthday, was as church organist in Halle, Handel's musical predilections lay elsewhere.
in 1703 he traveled to Hamburg, the operatic center of Germany; here, in 1704, he composed his own first opera, Almira, which achieved great success the following year. Once again, however, Handel soon felt the urge to move on, and his inclinations led him to Italy, the birthplace of operatic style. He stopped first at Florence in the autumn of 1706. In the spring and summer of 1707 and 1708 he traveled to Rome, enjoying the patronage of both the nobility and the clergy, and in the late spring of 1707 he made an additional short trip to Naples. In Italy Handel composed operas, oratorios, and many small secular cantatas; he ended his Italian sojourn with the spectacular success of his fifth opera, Agrippina (1709), in Venice
Handel left Italy for a job as court composer and conductor in Hannover, Germany, where he arrived in the spring of 1710. As had been the case in Halle, however, he did not hold this job for long. By the end of 1710 Handel had left for London, where with Rinaldo (1711), he once again scored an operatic triumph.
After returning to Hannover he was granted permission for a second, short trip to London, from which, however, he never returned. Handel was forced to face his truancy when in 1714 the elector at Hannover, his former employer, became King George I of England. The reconciliation of these two men may well have occurred, as has often been said, during a royal party on the River Thames in 1717, during which the F major suite from Handel's Water Music was probably played.
An oratorio is an extended composition for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra; the narrative text is usually based on scripture or biblical stories but is non-liturgical. Although the oratorio is often about sacred subjects, it may also deal with semi-sacred subjects. This large-scale work is often compared to an opera, but unlike the opera, the oratorio often doesn't have acting, costumes and scenery. The chorus is an important element of an oratorio and the narrator's recitatives help move the story forward.
In 1738 Handel, as determined as ever, began yet another operatic endeavor, which ended with his last opera, Deidamia, in 1741. During the 1730s, however, the most important directions taken by Handel were, first, the composition of English dramatic oratorios, notably Athalia (1733) and Saul (1739); and, second, the surge of instrumental music used in conjunction with the oratorios, including some of Handel's greatest concertos-the solo concertos of op. 4 (1736, five for organ and one for harp) and the 12 concerti grossi of op. 6 (1739). In 1742 Messiah, the work for which he is best known, was first performed in Dublin. Handel continued composing oratorios at the rate of about two a year, including such masterworks as Samson (1743) and Solomon (1749), until 1751, when his eyesight began to fail. Handel died in London on April 14, 1759; the last musical performance he heard, on April 6, was of his own Messiah.
Messiah achieved the status of cultural icon during Handel’s lifetime and its impact has not diminished since the composer’s death. With a history so rich and far-reaching, it is hard to imagine that the oratorio caused a scandal in London. Even in Dublin there were obstacles to the first performance.
In a letter to a friend dated July 10, 1741, Charles Jennens, who had supplied Handel with texts for other oratorios, explains that he sent this collection of scriptural passages to Handel in the hope that the composer would set it. Jennens’ assembled text, from the Old and New Testaments, does not tell a continuous story; rather, the text refers to the prophecy and birth of Christ (part 1), his death and resurrection (part 2), and the redemption and response of the believer (part 3).