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: 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: 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: Israel In Egypt / The Sixteen
Release Date: 01/01/2003   Label: Coro  
Catalog: 16011   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Water Music Suite no 2 in D major, HWV 349

 

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, for duties to the former Elector of Hanover left unfulfilled by Handel. As the story goes, Handel seized the Read more opportunity in 1717 to provide some musical entertainment for the King's now-famous barge party on the River Thames, and 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 when putting together the Water Music; for the Water Music Suite No. 2 in D major, HWV 349, Handel has added a pair of trumpets to the robust ensemble of two oboes, two horns, strings, and basso continuo that he used in the Water Music Suite No. 1.

The first of the Suite's five pieces is the only substantial through-composed movement to be found in it (the rest are all dances of one kind or another). Although given no heading by Handel, this fast-tempo movement is composed in very normal Baroque overture style, starting off with an accompanied trumpet fanfare and soon moving on to ponder a regal dotted-note motive that brings the French Overture to mind. The crystalline brilliance of Handel's scoring is plain from the start -- witness the fiery descending string scales that support the opening trumpet blast and, a while later, the virtuoso sixteenth notes of the trumpets themselves.

After this overture movement comes a little musicological trouble, as the hornpipe dance included in some printed editions is very often replaced in performance and print by an entirely different dance (also a hornpipe). The more commonly-played of the two hornpipes is certainly one of Handel's most famous instrumental compositions, filled with wonderful syncopations and, during the middle of the first of the dance's two (quite lengthy) halves, some charming interplay between the trumpets, horns and strings.

Although most often called a minuet on account of its triple meter, the stately, binary-form piece that comes third in the D major Suite in fact carries the heading "Coro," or Chorus.

The Lentement that follows (the indication is Handel's own), is a delicate thing, rolling gently along on dotted quarter-eighth-quarter rhythms and providing just enough minor mode contrast in its second section to make the da capo reprise of the opening taste all the sweeter.

Handel marks the following Air -- really in the rapid style of the bourrée -- to be played three times all told, leaving it up to the musicians to decide what, if any, textural contrasts might be nice each time around.

-- Blair Johnston
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