George Frideric Handel

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    Understanding the Music: Handel - Messiah as a masterwork



Biography

Born in Halle, Germany, in 1685, George Handel was one of the greatest composers of the late baroque period (1700-1750).  Although his family had no musical distinction, his own musical talent manifested itself early.  Before his tenth birthday he began to receive formal music instruction.

He began his first job at age 17, as a church organist in Halle.  However, his musical inclinations lay elsewhere, and a year later he moved to Hamburg, the operatic center of Germany.  There, in 1704, he composed his first opera, Almira, which achieved great success.   His interest in opera took him next to Italy, the birthplace of operatic style, in 1706.  Handel visited several major cities and along the way composed operas, oratorios, and many small secular cantatas. He ended his visit to Italy with the spectacular success of his fifth opera, Agrippina (1709), in Venice.

He returned for a few years to Hanover, Germany, but took residence permanently in London in 1714 when the elector at Hanover, his former employer, became King George I of England. By 1719 Handel had won the support of the King to start the Royal Academy of Music, which presented some of Handel's greatest operas, including Radamisto (1720) and Giulio Cesare (1724).

In the 1730's, Handel composed oratorios, including Athalia (1733) and Saul (1739) plus five concertos for organ, one for harp and 12 concerti grossi.  In 1742, Messiah 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. He died in London in 1759.