George Frideric Handel – Famous Composer from the 1700s
Portrait of Georg Friedrich Handel (Halle, 1685-London, 1759), German composer. Painting by Philippe Mercier (1689-1760), 1720. Detail. Halle, Haendel-Haus Source: (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
George Frideric Handel was a famous composer from the early 1700s. He composed operas, oratorios, anthems, and more. Out of his most popular accomplishments, the oratorio that he is best remembered for his 'Messiah' that was first performed in 1742 in Dublin, Ireland and then in London a year later. This was after his having first suffered a stroke in 1737.
George Frideric Handel, who was born in February of 1685, was known as Georg in Germany (the German style of his name) where he was born to Georg Handel (Senior) and Dorothea Taust (Georg Handel Senior’s second wife).
George’s father was a barber when he married his first wife at the age of 20. She was the widow of a barber-surgeon and Georg took over his practice. Together they had five children who he persuaded to go into medical professions except for their youngest daughter. George’s father wanted George to become a lawyer.
George attended what was called the “gymnasium” in Halle, Germany which is actually grammar school. The headmaster, Johann Praetorius was a passionate musician which George’s father was not too happy about when he found out. It is believed that his father withdrew him from the school as he did not allow musical instruments in their home nor was George even allowed to go to a home where there were musical instruments. Reportedly, George’s mother obtained a small clavichord for him to play and he secretly practiced in the attic while they were asleep. As depicted by the painting above, George got caught and his father was not happy about his interest in music. He later did allow him to take formal lessons through Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, who was a church organist at Halle.
After traveling to several places such as Italy and England, George Handel soon relocated to London where he not only played various instruments but began composing operas designed to suit royal patronage. He became quite famous internationally even playing for the King of England on a regular basis. Some of his works for the Royal Academy of Music include: ‘Radamisto,’ ‘Giulio Cesare in Egitto,’ and ‘Rodelinda.’ When the Royal Academy of Music closed in 1728 due to the decreasing popularity of Italian Opera, Handel began to work on oratorios. Oratorios became regular in opera houses and he began to produce several including ‘Esther’, ‘Deborah,’ among others.
Even though Handel suffered losses, he continued to produce concerts which inevitably caused his opera company to go into bankruptcy in 1736. It was during that same year that he also suffered a stroke at age 52. By all intense purposes, no one expected him to ever perform again but they were wrong. Not only did he perform again but he put out some of his best work although he did focus more on oratorios such as 'Messiah.' Another oratorio of his that is performed and popular today is ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’
In 1723, he rented a house at 25 Brook Street where he lived for the rest of his life. He was 74 years old when he died and his home became the Handel House Museum in London which is open to the public now six days a week. Right next to his museum is the location where Jimi Hendrix once lived.
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