Born in Germany, Handel moved to England when he was 25 and became a British citizen when he was 42.
One of the great baroque composers, he is best known for his grand oratorio 'Messiah', his Water Music, and Music for the Royal Fireworks.
In addition to these he produced a formidable body of work including about 50 operas.
Born: Halle, Germany, 23 February 1685 (Pisces)
Father: Georg Händel, barber surgeon, barber and valet to the Saxony Court.
Mother: Dorothea Taust Händel, (Georg's second wife)
Siblings: He was the second born to Dorothea. I read somewhere that he had nine siblings many of which were half-siblings but I can't remember where I read it.
Partners: He never married and kept his private life to himself.
Died: London, 14 April 1759
Cause of death: probably lead poisoning see article
Grave: Poets corner, Westminster Abbey, London. See findagrave
Style/period: English Baroque
Genres: operas, oratorios, organ, harpsichord, concerti grossi
* the Messiah (including the 'Hallelujah chorus')
* Water Music
* Music for the Royal Fireworks
* The Cuckoo and the Nightingale
* The Harmonious Blacksmith
* Concerti Grossi
* 42 operas
* 29 oratorios
* 120 duets and trios and cantatas
* 16 organ concerti
* numerous chamber music pieces
Handel in Art
A fascinating collection of images - art, portraits, caricatures, cartoons, album covers and postge stamps.
A very large man, fond of his food and drink. Nicknamed 'The Great Bear' because of his size, nature and way of walking.
Spoke English, French, Italian and of course German all with a thick German accent.
He never married and little is known of his private life, he valued his privacy.
Although easily annoyed, quick tempered and prone to tantrums he was also gentle, had a sense of humour and bore no grudges.
Very independent. He made a good living from his music and was extremely generous supporting various charities - in particular the Foundling orphanage of which he was a governor and the Royal Society of Musicians.
Early years: He had an early interest in music but his father
discouraged it and insisted that he study law. He studied the clavichord
secretly with the help of his mother.
Age 17 Organist of Halle Cathedral. Studied Law.
Age 18-21: Violinist and keyboards with Hamburg Opera Orchestra. Gave private lessons. First two operas were produced.
Age 21-25: Went to Italy. Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice. Studied with Corelli. This period was an important influence on his work, especially regarding opera and Concerti Grossi.
Age 25:Went to Hanover and was appointed court composer to the George Louis, the Elector, later to become King George I of England. Handel was sent to England where he was received at the court of Queen Anne. He devoted himself mainly to Italian style opera which he introduced to England.
Age 29: Queen Anne died and George of Hanover became King of England. Handel was commissioned to produce works which included The Water Music for an evening's entertainment on the river Thames.
Age 32: Accepted appointment as resident composer for the Earl of Carnarvon who had his own choir and orchestra. This was to enable him to pursue his interest in opera.
In 1718 the nobility formed 'The Royal Academy of Music', an Italian opera company, in London and Handel was its first musical director.
Age 38: Appointed composer to the Chapel Royal.
Age 42: Became a British citizen. George 1 died. Composed music for the coronation of George II, including Zadok the Priest which has been played at every coronation since.
Age 52: Suffered a stroke which seriously affected his right hand.
Age 56: Opera was going out of fashion so he concentrated on writing oratorios which were becoming much more sought after.
Age 65: Lost his sight due to a botched cataract operation by the English eye surgeon John Taylor who had also operated on Bach causing his premature death.
In spite of his total blindness he continued performing and organising performances until he died.
Age 74: Died and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He was given full state honours and 3000 mourners attended his funeral.
Handel on stamps (click on image)
- "I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself." (on composing the Messiah)
- "Should I have had to spend money in order to be like those idiots? Never in this world!" (on refusing to pay for an honorary degree at Oxford)
- "What a wonderful thing it is to be sure of one's faith How wonderful to be a member of the evangelical church, which preaches the free grace of God through Christ as the hope of sinners. If we were to rely on our works--my God, what would become of us."
- "Handel understands effect better than any of us -- when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt." (Mozart)
- "He is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb" (Beethoven)
More quotes and anecdotes here.
Tony Palmer's film of the life of Handel: "God Rot Tunbridge Wells"
This film was originally shown in 1985 on British television to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Handel’s birth. Written by John Osborne, it strips away what seemed like centuries of bad Handel performances and reveals a composer who burst upon London like a tornado and laid the foundations of an entirely different tradition of British music making – bold, brassy and brilliant. The words Osborne puts into Handel’s mouth, moreover, although completely invented, are derived from a clever reworking of those texts which Handel himself had used in his various operas & oratorios.
Bach and Handel, the two greatest baroque composers, were born within a month of each other and 80 miles apart, yet they never met.
Another curiosity: both men suffered from failing eyesight, probably cataracts, in old age. In 1749 an English eye doctor, John Taylor, visited Leipzig and operated on Bach's eyes after which Bach became totally blind, his health deteriorated and he died soon after.
The following year the same John Taylor operated on Handel's eyes in London, also with poor success.
John Taylor eventually went blind himself.
(Thanks to John Lienhard of the University of Houston)
The Portland Handel Society - an interesting site
Baroque Music site: Not only Handel but lots of other baroque composers.
Handel House Museum
The Handel Institute
Other profiles of German composers here at 52composers.com