The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

George Frideric Handel

Born: 1685 in Halle (Germany)
Died: 1759 in London (England)

Handel was one of the greatest composers of the late baroque period and, during his lifetime, perhaps the most internationally famous of all musicians. Handel was born February 24, 1685, in Halle, 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 position, beginning just after his 17th birthday, was as church organist in Halle, Handel's musical predilections lay elsewhere. Thus, 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 position 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 position 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 1715, during which the F major suite from Handel's Water Music was probably played. Under the patronage of the duke of Chandos, he composed his oratorio Esther and the 11 Chandos anthems for choir and string orchestra (1717-20). By 1719 Handel had won the support of the king to start the Royal Academy of Music for performances of opera, which presented some of Handel's greatest operas: Radamisto (1720), Giulio Cesare (1724), Tamerlano (1724), and Rodelinda (1725). In 1727 Handel became a naturalized British subject; in 1728 the academy collapsed. He formed a new company the following year. Forced to move to another theater by the Opera of the Nobility, a rival company, in 1734, he continued to produce opera until 1737, when both houses failed. Handel suffered a stroke and retired to Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) to recuperate.

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 Opus 4 (1736, five for organ and one for harp) and the 12 concerti grossi of Opus 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 his own Messiah.

Throughout his life Handel avoided the rigorous contrapuntal techniques of his compatriot and exact contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach and achieved his effects through the simplest of means, trusting always his own innate musicianship. The music of both composers, however, sums up the age in which they lived. After them, opera took a different path; the favorite baroque genres of chamber and orchestral music, trio sonata and concerto grosso, were largely abandoned, and the development of the symphony orchestra and the pianoforte led into realms uncharted by the baroque masters. Thus, their influence cannot be found in specific examples. Rather, Handel's legacy lies in the dramatic power and lyrical beauty inherent in all his music. His operas move from the rigid use of conventional schemes toward a more flexible and dramatic treatment of recitative, arioso, aria, and chorus. His ability to build large scenes around a single character was further extended in the dramatic scenas of composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Italian Gioacchino Rossini. Handel's greatest gift to posterity was undoubtedly the creation of the dramatic oratorio genre, partly out of existing operatic traditions and partly by force of his own musical imagination. Without question, the oratorios of both the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn and the German composer Felix Mendelssohn owe a large debt to those of Handel. He was one of the first composers to have a biography written of him (1760), to have centennial celebrations of his birth (1784-86), and to have a complete edition of his music published (40 vol., 1787-97) - Ludwig van Beethoven cherished his set. Although today, as in the 19th century, Handel is best known for only a few of his works, such as Water Music and Messiah, more and more attempts are being made to bring his other compositions, especially his operas, to the public acquaintance. Handel's rich and unique musical genius deserves to be remembered in the extraordinary fullness of its entirety.

Source: Lost

George Frederic Handel

Handel was born February 23, 1685, in Halle, Germany. His father was a barber-surgeon who dreamed of his son becoming a lawyer. The father's practical concerns allowed little consideration of his son's musical talents. But through the influence of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, his father consented to letting the gifted eight-year old boy take organ lessons from Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau, the organist of the cathedral in Halle. There he learned the basics of composing and soon mastered the organ, clavier, violin, and oboe. In 1702 he entered the new University of Halle to study law and also served as organist of the cathedral. It was only after the death of his father that Handel was able to fully devote his life to the study of music. In 1703 he traveled to Hamburg to join a theater orchestra as a violinist. While there he also wrote four operas. From 1707-1710 he studied the Italian opera in Italy and was deeply impressed by many of that country's musical masters. His own compositions were being received with high acclaim everywhere he went. In 1710, he was appointed court conductor in Hanover which had close connections England's court. Soon after he made his way to England and became a naturalized subject there at which time he changed his name from Haendel to Handel.

From 1718-1720, he was chapelmaster for the very wealthy and eccentric Duke of Chandos and lived lavishly at an estate fourteen kilometers from London. Here he wrote the "Chandos Anthems" which were written for the duke's daily, private chapel services.

It was in the next twenty years that he experienced the greatest fame. He was engaged in an operatic war with his rival, Bononcini, which dragged both of them into bankruptcy in 1737. Handel suffered a stroke of paralysis and was physically debilitated for several months. He recovered and completely turned his energies to oratorios which were not as financially risky and which earned him his lasting fame.

His eyes completely failed him in 1753. But his work was aided by his colleague, Schmidt, and the blind organist, Stanley. He presided at the organ for a performance of The Messiah on April 6, 1759. He died April 14, 1759 and was buried with public honors in Westminster Abbey on April 20.

His compositions include 46 operas, 32 oratorios, 28 Italian solo cantatas with instruments, and 72 with thorough bass, 20 chamber duets, and church and instrumental music. His most famous oratorio, The Messiah, was composed in twenty-four days in 1741 and was performed for the first time on April 13, 1742, in Dublin.

Source: The Hymnuts

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel, one of the greatest composers of the baroque period, was born in Halle, Germany, on Feb. 23, 1685. He died in London on Apr. 14, 1759, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. In his later years he preferred the anglicized form of his name (used in this article) rather than the original form, Georg Friedrich Handel. Handel is best known for his English oratorios, particularly the Messiah.

At the age of 12, Handel became the assistant organist at the cathedral of Halle, where the principal organist was his teacher, the excellent composer Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau (1663-1712). In 1703, Handel moved to Hamburg, one of the principal musical centers of Germany. There he played violin in the opera orchestra, directed by the eminent composer Reinhard Keiser. Handel composed two operas for the Hamburg theater, Almira (1705) and Nero (1705).

About 1706, Handel went to Italy, remaining there until 1710. His Italian travels took him to Florence, Venice, Rome, and Naples. Among the works that he composed for some of the most important patrons of those cities are his first two oratorios, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (1707, later rev. and trans. as The Triumph of Time and Truth) and La Resurrezione (1708), and the opera Agrippina (1709). These works reveal Handel's growing mastery of Italian style.

In 1710, Handel returned to Germany and became musical director to the elector of Hanover. Late in the same year he visited England, where his opera Rinaldo was performed with great success. After another brief stay in Hanover, Handel received a leave of absence to return to London. In 1714 his former Hanover employer became King George I of England, and the new king bestowed special favors on Handel, who made London his permanent home and, in 1727, became an English citizen.

In England Handel continued to compose in the Italian style, but he also absorbed the characteristics of English music, especially English choral music. As musical director of the Royal Academy of Music from 1719 to 1728 and of the so-called Second Academy from 1728 to 1734--both organizations for the performance of Italian opera--Handel became London's leading composer and director of Italian operas. In fact, he was among the most important opera composers of the baroque period. Most of the texts of his approximately 40 operas are based on stories about heroic historical figures, but some are fantasies with magical scenes, and others are light "antiheroic" works. Musically, Handel's operas are outstanding for their imaginative use of the conventions of serious opera. A number of his operas have been recently revived, among them Giulio Cesare (1724), Tamerlano (1724), Orlando (1733), Alcina (1735), and Serse (1738).

Today Handel is far better known as a composer of English oratorios than of Italian operas. Of his 17 English oratorios, the earliest date from the period in which he was still composing Italian operas: Esther (1718; rev. 1732), Deborah (1733), Athalia (1733), Saul (1738), and Israel in Egypt (1738). From 1740 on, however, he abandoned Italian opera and concentrated on English oratorio. From this later period dates Messiah (1741), the most influential and widely performed oratorio of all time. Among his other outstanding oratorios of this period are Samson (1741), Belshazzar (1744), Solomon (1748), Theodora (1749), and Jephtha (1751). Mostly based on Old Testament stories, Handel's oratorios are three-act dramatic works, somewhat like operas but performed in concert, without staging or action. They are unusual in their prominent use of the chorus.

A prolific composer in many other genres, Handel is well known for his outstanding contributions to English church music, secular vocal music, and instrumental music of various types, particularly the concerto.

Music, 1742: Oratorio The Messiah by George Frideric Handel 4/13 at the Dublin Cathedral, with Mrs. Susannah Cibber singing the contralto part in a charity concert for the benefit of "the Prisoners in several Gaols, and for the support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn’s Quay." Mrs. Cibber was disgraced three years earlier in a sex scandal that culminated in a trial which revealed the adulterous relationship forced upon her by her husband Theophilus Cibber (son of the playwright–theatrical manager). The chancellor of the cathedral rises after her aria describing Christ’s suffering and cries out, "Woman, for this all thy sins be forgiven thee," the concert raises enough money to free 142 prisoners from debtors’ prison, and performances of the oratorio will become an annual Christmas tradition.

It is said that when King George II first heard The Messiah, he was so moved by the Halleluah Chorus that he jumped to his feet — which his alert subjects immediately imitated. This formed the basis for the same practice when performed today (the origins of this practice is the subject of considerable dispute; as I was not at the performance in question, therefore I take no position).

The Messiah was written in 23 days.

Source: Lost