George Frideric Handel


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: Sonatas for Violin & Basso Continuo / Brook Street Band
Release Date: 06/01/2018   Label: Avie  
Catalog: 2387   Number of Discs: 1
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Handel: Acis & Galatea / Crowe, Curnyn, Early Opera Company
Release Date: 06/01/2018   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 404   Number of Discs: 2
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Schumann, Handel, Haydn, Telemann: Concertos For Four Horns
Release Date: 12/13/2005   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8557747   Number of Discs: 1
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Handel: Messiah / Dunedin Consort
Release Date: 01/01/2006   Label: Linn Records  
Catalog: 285   Number of Discs: 2
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Handel: Esther - Cannons Version Of 1720 / Dunedin Consort
Release Date: 05/29/2012   Label: Linn Records  
Catalog: 397   Number of Discs: 2
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Work: Water Music Suite no 3 in G major, HWV 350


Handel: Water Music Suite - Water Music Suite in G Major - Menuet & Trio
Handel: Water Music Suite - Water Music Suite in G Major - Rigaudon I and II
Handel: Water Music Suite - Water Music Suite in G Major - Gigue
About This Work
There is a highly fictionalized story that George Frideric Handel's magnificent Water Music was originally intended as a peace offering to King George I. In 1710, the then Elector of Hanover had given the rather vagabond composer a generous position Read more 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 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.

It appears that Handel drew upon three already-composed suites of instrumental music when putting together the Water Music; the Water Music Suite No. 3 in G major/minor, HWV 350, is, in terms of instrumentation, the most intimate of the three, calling for just flutes, strings, and basso continuo.

There are really only four movements in the Third Water Music Suite, but three of these are da capo organizations built around two individual pieces, and so one will sometimes see HWV 350 listed as comprising seven or eight separate items. Unlike the Second Suite, which begins with a robust and lengthy overture, or the First, which contains no fewer than three large-scale through-composed movements, the Water Music Suite No. 3 is made up entirely of small dance and character pieces.

First up is a gentle, untitled piece in triple meter (sometimes called lento), in which a solo flute -- supported by the first violins -- sings a flexible melody atop a transparent background that, even at its most active, moves no faster than in quarter notes. Each of the piece's two halves is repeated.

In the following Aria the flutes are sometimes replaced by oboes, but this is most likely a modern enhancement and not Handel's idea. A rapid bourrée style is at work in each of the two parts of this da capo organization, and each is itself cast in simple binary form. Handel provides some delightful harmonic contrast in the second part -- he moves to the parallel minor (G minor), but not directly at first, and even after establishing the new mode feels free to veer off towards B flat major and C minor for a bit -- but the reprise of the opening re-establishes good natured G major.

A Menuet and Trio in G minor is next (sometimes the minuet portion and its trio, which is not actually marked as such, are separated into individual movements). There is a wonderful line for piccolo flute, or, possibly recorder, in the trio section.

A pair of Country Dances -- titled such by tradition, not by Handel -- make a jovial conclusion.

-- Blair Johnston
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