Who is Handel?

This composer, born Georg Friederich Händel in Germany in 1685 and later known as George Frideric or Frederick Handel, was musically trained in Italy and lived in England from 1712 until his death in 1759, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1727. Composers such as Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart were familiar with and influenced his music, and a number of his works are still popular today.

Handel, who was born in the same year as Domenico Scarlatti and Johann Sebastian Bach in a province of Brandenburg-Prussia, showed an early musical proclivity, becoming an accomplished pipe organist and harpsichordist the age of seven. Despite his father’s disapproval of his desire to pursue a career in music, Handel studied keyboard and composition and was given his own spinet.

Handel’s musical education was interrupted twice: first, his father’s death in 1697, and then, in 1702, his decision to follow his father’s wishes and begin law school. Handel returned to music after a brief period of study, becoming the organist of Halle’s Protestant Cathedral. He moved to Hamburg in 1704 and worked in the opera house orchestra as a violinist and harpsichordist. Four of his early operas had already been performed there 1708.

During his travels in Italy from 1706 to 1709, Handel focused on sacred music and composed a number of cantatas. Rodrigo, his first entirely Italian opera, premiered in Florence in 1707, followed Agrippina in 1709. He also spent time in Rome, where he composed two oratorios.

Handel’s appointment as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover in 1710 was the beginning of a major transformation for him, as this was George, who would go on to become King George I of Great Britain, and the connection prompted Handel’s relocation to England. Handel wrote some of his most famous works here, including Water Music, which was first performed on a barge for a water party in July of 1717. According to legend, George I was so taken with the work that he had the three suites performed three times at the premiere.

Handel wrote the 1726 opera Scipio in the house that now houses the Handel House Museum, and a march from it became the march used the British Grenadier Guards. In addition, one of the anthems he composed for King George II’s coronation in 1727, the year he became a British citizen, has been played at every British coronation since.

After recovering from an illness or stroke in 1737, Handel composed more oratorios than operas, including the oratorio Messiah, which is still performed hundreds of times each year in the United States alone. In 1749, he composed Music for the Royal Fireworks, which was performed in front of a crowd of 12,000 people. He gave benefit performances of his works for charity later in life. He was buried in Westminster Abbey after his death in 1759.