George Frideric Handel

Biography

Born: 1685   Died: 1759   Country: Germany   Period: Baroque
Most music lovers have encountered George Frederick Handel through holiday-time renditions of the Messiah's "Hallelujah" chorus. And many of them know and love that oratorio of Christ's life and death, as well as a few other greatest hits like the orchestral Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music, and perhaps Judas Maccabeus or one of the other English oratorios. Yet his operas, for which he was widely known in his own time, are the province Read more mainly of specialists in Baroque music, and the events of his life, even though they reflected some of the most important musical issues of the day, have never become as familiar as the careers of Bach or Mozart. Perhaps the single word that best describes his life and music is "cosmopolitan": he was a German composer, trained in Italy, who spent most of his life in England.
Handel was born in the German city of Halle on February 23, 1685. His father noted but did not nurture his musical talent, and he had to sneak a small keyboard instrument into his attic to practice. As a child he studied music with Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, organist at the Liebfrauenkirche, and for a time he seemed destined for a career as a church organist himself. After studying law briefly at the University of Halle, Handel began serving as organist on March 13, 1702, at the Domkirche there. Dissatisfied, he took a post as violinist in the Hamburg opera orchestra in 1703, and his frustration with musically provincial northern Germany was perhaps shown when he fought a duel the following year with the composer Matheson over the accompaniment to one of Matheson's operas. In 1706 Handel took off for Italy, then the font of operatic innovation, and mastered contemporary trends in Italian serious opera. He returned to Germany to become court composer in Hannover, whose rulers were linked by family ties with the British throne; his patron there, the Elector of Hannover, became King George I of England. English audiences took to his 1711 opera Rinaldo, and several years later Handel jumped at the chance to move to England permanently. He impressed King George early on with the Water Music of 1716, written as entertainment for a royal boat outing.
Through the 1720s Handel composed Italian operatic masterpieces for London stages: Ottone, Serse (Xerxes), and other works often based on classical stories. His popularity was dented, though, by new English-language works of a less formal character, and in the 1730s and 1740s Handel turned to the oratorio, a grand form that attracted England's new middle-class audiences. Not only Messiah but also Israel in Egypt, Samson, Saul, and many other works established him as a venerated elder of English music. The oratorios displayed to maximum effect Handel's melodic gift and the sense of timing he brought to big choral numbers. Among the most popular of all the oratorios was Judas Maccabeus, composed in 32 days in 1746. Handel presented the oratorio six times during its first season and about 40 times before his death 12 years later, conducting it 30 times himself. In 1737, Handel suffered a stroke, which caused both temporary paralysis in his right arm and some loss of his mental faculties, but he recovered sufficiently to carry on most normal activity. He was urged to write an autobiography, but never did. Blind in old age, he continued to compose. He died in London on April 14, 1759. Beethoven thought Handel the greatest of all his predecessors; he once said, "I would bare my head and kneel at his grave." Read less
Handel: Messiah / Handel & Haydn Society
Release Date: 10/14/2014   Label: Coro  
Catalog: 16125   Number of Discs: 2
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Handel - Heroes From The Shadows / Stutzmann, Orfeo 55
Release Date: 10/14/2014   Label: Erato  
Catalog: 623177   Number of Discs: 1
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Handel: Tamerlano / Gauvin, Cencic, Minasi, Il Pomo D’oro
Release Date: 04/29/2014   Label: Naive  
Catalog: 5373   Number of Discs: 3
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Handel: Jephtha / Gilchrist, Bickley, Blaze, Christopers, The Sixteen
Release Date: 09/09/2014   Label: Coro  
Catalog: 16121   Number of Discs: 3
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Handel: Messiah / Haim, Crowe, Mead, Purves, Staples
Release Date: 10/28/2014   Label: Erato  
Catalog: 624055   Number of Discs: 2
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Work: Water Music Suite no 1 in F major, HWV 348

 

About This Work
There is a story that George Frideric Handel's magnificent Water Music was originally intended as a peace offering to King George I. In 1710, prior to his ascension to the British throne, the then Elector of Hanover had given the rather vagabond Read more composer a generous position at his court; but Handel never actually fulfilled his duties. After the Elector relocated to London, the composer was more than a little reluctant to face his old master. As the story goes, it was not until 1717, when Handel seized the opportunity to provide some musical entertainment for the King's now-famous barge party on the River Thames, that the composer was restored in the royal eye; George I was completely enamored with the Water Music (asking for the hour-long work to be repeated three times and not returning to the palace until the wee hours) and all past transgressions were immediately forgotten. There was indeed a grand party on the Thames on July 17, 1717, during which some of Handel's music (possibly but not definitely the Water Music) was played, but the rest of the story is likely highly fictionalized.

It appears that Handel drew upon three already-composed suites of instrumental music, each scored for slightly different instrumental forces, when putting together the Water Music; the Water Music Suite No. 1 in F major, HWV 348, scored for a pair of oboes, bassoon, two horns, two violins, and basso continuo, is the largest of the three, comprising ten more-or-less separate pieces.

The Overture that begins the first Water Music Suite is in two large sections. The stately and eminently restrained exuberance of the first and slower section, built entirely out of a single ornamented pick-up gesture, finally boils over into the vivacious, partially fugato, allegro portion of the piece. There are two printed endings for the Overture: one ending in a full and rich cadence to tonic, the other climaxing on a dramatic half cadence.

Next up is an Adagio e staccato (the heading is apparently Handel's), and then a large three-part movement that moves from an "allegro" (not Handel's heading) built on a regal, fanfare-like, repeated-note motive in triple meter, to a Corelli-derived Andate in D minor and then back to the allegro "da capo." If we count this Allegro-Andante-Allegro as a single movement, there are really only nine pieces in the Suite.

A delightful minuet (sometimes called simply Andante or Moderato) precedes the famous Air, which is marked by Handel to be played three times. Another minuet and trio, this time starting off with a robust horn duet, follows.

The Bourrée, like the Air, is to be played three times; on the second time around the two oboes take the place of the two violin sections, and on the third the two contingents join forces.

After a Hornpipe, Handel finishes the Suite with a substantial fast movement (not titled, but written in ordinary Baroque allegro style) not in F major, but rather in its relative minor, perhaps in an effort to make more seamless the transition between this Suite and the following one in D major (HWV 349).

-- Blair Johnston
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