It’s time for us to turn your heads towards a powerhouse of Baroque, Mr George Frideric Handel.
From Halle to London
Born in 1685 Halle, there must have been something in the water as two more future composers, Domenico Scarlatti and Johann Sebastian Bach, were born on the same day! Growing up, Handel’s father wasn’t too keen on his son pursuing a career in music. This meant that the little boy had to climb quietly into the attic to practise his clavichord that was hidden up there!
With strong influence from both the German polyphonic choral tradition and Italian baroque music, Handel set out on his life as a composer – and it was a fruitful one! Over the course of 30 years he wrote over 40 opera series (he became very well known for his operas), as well as various oratorios, anthems and more. After working for some time in Germany and Italy, it was time to set sail for the shores of England in 1712.
In order to satisfy the opera cravings of English nobility, Handel started three opera companies, that is, until he suffered a breakdown which changed his creative direction quite significantly towards English choral works instead. The hugely successful Messiah was the last Italian opera he ever wrote!
The support he received from England was notable! Queen Anne set him on an annual salary of £200 (that was a very generous sum back in the day!) and he was also made a naturalised British subject. He was also made Musical Director of the Royal Academy of Music!
The Test of Time
Compositions by Handel have really stood the test of time in a grand way. He wrote four coronation anthems, one called “Zadok the Priest” (Google it now, you’ll almost certainly know it!). This anthem has been performed at every British coronation since 1727 – wild!
Fun Fact: It’s almost a miracle that Handel lived for as long as he did - the odds were certainly not in his favour. First up, he got into a composer battle with Johann Mattheson. A fierce fight almost led to Mattheson killing Handel with his sword, if it wasn’t for a button on Handel’s chest which took the blow! Being the famous composer that he was, Handel was allowed to choose the leading lady in his operas which, one time, caused a fight between two sopranos who had a scrap ON STAGE. To top it all off, Handel suffered a stroke, survived a coach crash and an eye operation gone-wrong. Yep, his survival really is a miracle!
A blue plaque can now be found on Handel’s London home at 25 Brook Street, right next door to Jimi Hendrix! It has been carefully restored to how Handel would have kept it back in the day.
We’ve got a wonderful Handel tune in the new RSL Classical Violin Grade 6 syllabus. It’s the “Allegro” movement from his Violin Sonata in D Major, HWV 371. It’s quite an important piece for a couple of reasons, one being that it was written over a decade later than his other violin sonatas, and also because it was the last piece of chamber music he ever wrote! It’s a beautiful movement, filled with energy and sparkle. It’s also very demanding with many string crossing and position changing passages, so be sure to limber up before attempting this one!
If you’ve enjoyed taking a peek into this composers life, then there’s plenty more for you to see. Handel joins some incredible people on the Grade 6 syllabus, including Lili Boulanger and Florence Price.