George Friedrich Handel

Born the same year as J. S. Bach, George Friedrich Handel was arguably one of the greatest composers of the classical period. Born in Halle, Germany, he chose to study abroad, and spent time in Italy before travelling to London. There he was to settle, and there he became both famous and successful as he worked to please English royalty as well as the citizens of London.

His family discouraged the study of music, but he impressed the Duke with his organ playing, and was allowed to take lessons during his teen years. His father wanted him to get a “good” job. and he attended the University in Halle to prepare for service as a state official. He was, however, invited at 21 to visit Florence, Italy, and spent the next 3 years there studying and writing Italian opera. Feeling that London was the place to seek his musical fortune, he visited there in 1711, and returned a year later to cultivate the favor of the English.

London loved Italian opera, and he produced several in his first 2 years. Popularity is fragile, however, and the English soon tired of listening to songs whose words they had to guess at. Handel and other playwrights were forced to come up with something new, and Handel was quite willing to make the change. Oratorio had begun to be popular, and he successfully made the switch to productions which, while still featuring great music, were less lavish and therefore easier to produce. His success in this field lasted for over 4 decades, and when he died at 74, he was a wealthy man who had won sufficient fame and admiration to be given a state funeral service and burial at Westminster Abbey.

Music,like many other forms of expression, grows and develops with the passing of time. From mid-seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth, classical music saw some of its greatest development. Bach and Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were great contributors to this development, along with numerous lesser-known names, and Handel was as influential as any of them. Italian opera, oratorio and the organ concerto all reached heights they would not have known had Handel’s genius not brought the changes no one else had been able to make.