George Frideric Handel: A Brief History
George Frideric Handel was born on a cold February day in 1685, deep in the heart of Germany. His father was a prominent and successful barber-surgeon to the local duke and had decided early on that young George would study civil law.
but george was drawn to more artistic things, especially more musicals. he was intrigued by the instruments, the sounds they could make and the feelings they could evoke. His practical father intervened and forbade him from participating in what he called “musical nonsense”.
That wasn’t going to stop the small, determined young man. By some unknown means, George was able to obtain a small harpsichord and smuggle it into a small room at the top of the house. Then at night, while the rest of the family slept, George would sneak up to the room and play music, very quietly, late into the night. It was there that he handel discovered the magic of music.
it came as a complete surprise to family and friends at church one day when the eight-year-old boy climbed up on the organ pew and began playing the postlude. everyone was surprised, especially his father, who had no idea that his daughter was so talented. even so, his father sternly reminded his son that his destiny was something more practical than music.
Ultimately, Handel enrolled in law school in accordance with his father’s wishes, but the musical attraction was too much. Soon, he left the confines of the classroom and headed for the road. He traveled from city to city, learning what he could about the musical styles and gifts of each area before finally settling in London in 1711 at age 26. There his operas and oratorios gained wide acceptance and Handel became an established part of English music and social circles.
By the 1730s, the British public had grown tired of operas sung in German or Italian and preferred comic performances in English. This was good for Handel, who fought to keep creditors away from him, and led him to push himself to the limit by composing four operas in the same year.
As a result, Handel suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right arm. the attending physician said: “we can save the man, but the musician is lost forever. It seems to me that his brain has been permanently damaged.”
but handel refused to give up and surprised everyone when he miraculously regained his strength and declared “I am back from hades”.
messiah and his legacy
In 1741, swimming in debt and disgraced as a composer, Handel was given a libretto by Charles Jennens, a poet with whom he had previously worked. Using Biblical references, the booklet details the life of Jesus Christ from his birth and ministry to his crucifixion and resurrection. on august 22, handel, 56, secluded himself in his london house and began composing music for the biblical texts announcing the life of jesus christ. in just 23 days he completed a 260-page oratorio. he titled the enormous work messiah.
handel told patrons of the main performance of messiah in dublin, ireland, on april 13, 1742, that the proceeds of the performance should be donated to prisoners, orphans, and the sick. “I myself have been a very sick man and now I am cured,” he said. “I was imprisoned and I have been released.”
The performance received rave reviews and exceeded expectations, raising £400 and freeing 142 men from debtor’s prison. the charity’s patrons, hoping to get more paying patrons, had asked ladies to refrain from wearing earrings under their skirts and encouraged men to leave their swords at home.
although the play was well received in dublin, it was not a success in london, where audiences were confronted with a sacred play being performed in theatres. In 1749, it was another benefit performance to help with the completion of London’s foundling hospital for abandoned babies and children that kicked off a series of concerts that once again brought the messiah to the public with renewed appreciation. . Easter performances of the messiah continued each year at the foundling hospital until the 1770s, and Handel directed or attended each one until his death in 1759.
Some 40 years after the premiere of messiah, English musicologist charles burney wrote: “this great work has been heard in all parts of the realm with increasing reverence and delight; it has fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for orphans, and enriched oratory directors, more than any single production in this or any other country.”