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George Frideric Handel

(1685—1759) composer


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(b Halle, 1685; d London, 1759).

Ger.‐born composer and organist (Eng. cit. 1726). Son of a barber‐surgeon who opposed mus. as his son's career though he permitted lessons from Zachau, composer and org. of Liebfrauenkirche, Halle. Handel studied law at Halle Univ., turning to full‐time mus. when his father died. He went to Hamburg in 1703 where he joined the opera house under the composer Reinhard Keiser, playing 2nd vn. in the orch. His first opera Almira, written because Keiser lost interest in the lib., which Handel took over, was prod. there in 1705, being followed by 3 others. In 1706 Handel went to Italy in a prince's retinue, meeting Corelli, the Scarlattis, and other leading figures, and rapidly attaining mastery of It. style in opera, chamber mus., and vocal mus. He was acclaimed as a genius, the rival of his It. contemporaries. His opera Rodrigo was perf. in Florence in 1707 and Agrippina in Venice in 1709. The following year he was appointed court cond. in Hanover and was also invited to write an opera (Rinaldo) for London, where he quickly realized the possibilities for his own success and, after settling his affairs in Hanover, settled there permanently.

For the next 35 years Handel was immersed in the ups and downs of operatic activity in London where the It. opera seria was the dominant force. In 1712 he received a pension of £200 a year for life from Queen Anne, this being increased to £600 by King George I, his former ruler in Hanover, for whom in 1717 he comp. the famous Water Music suite. From 1717 to 1720 Handel was resident comp. to the Earl of Carnarvon (Duke of Chandos from April 1719) at his palace of Cannons in Edgware. The 11 Chandos Anthems were the chief fruit of this appointment. In 1719 Handel, in assoc. with G. Bononcini and Ariosti, was a mus. dir. of the so‐called Royal Acad. of Mus. (not a coll. but a business venture to produce It. opera). Handel travelled abroad to engage singers and in the 8 years until the acad. closed because of lack of support he comp. 14 operas, among them Radamisto, Rodelinda, Admeto, and Tolomeo. In 1727, for the coronation of George II, Handel wrote 4 anthems, incl. Zadok the Priest, which has been sung at every Brit. coronation since then.

The success of Gay's The Beggar's Opera and imitative works was the prin. cause of the falling‐away of support for Handel's co. He went to It. to hear operas by composers such as Porpora and Pergolesi and to engage the leading It. singers. Back in London in partnership with Heidegger at the King's Theatre, Handel wrote Lotario (1729), Partenope (1730), and Orlando (1733). In 1734 he moved to the new CG Th., for which he wrote two of his greatest operas, Ariodante (prod. Jan. 1735) and Alcina (prod. Ap. 1735), but he recognized that the popularity of It. opera was declining and began, somewhat unwillingly, to develop the genre of dramatic oratorios which is perhaps his most orig. contribution to the art of mus. Esther (1732 in rev. form) and Acis and Galatea are typical examples. Ironically, released from the conventions of opera seria, Handel's dramatic gifts found wider and more expressive outlets in the oratorio form. Scores contain stage directions and the use of ch. and orch. became more dramatic and rich. He cond. several oratorio perf. in London, 1735, playing his own org. concs. as entr'actes. Nevertheless he continued to write operas and between 1737 and 1740 comp. Berenice, Serse, Imeneo, and Deidamia.

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Subjects: Music.


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