One of the greatest composers of all time, who was honored when titled, “the musician of musicians”, George Frideric Handel.
Within the musical community, Handel is considered to be one of the most well respected and influential composers. He was known to his peers as the composers ‘composer.
Mozart was quoted to have said “Handel understands effect better than any of us – when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt… though he often saunters, in the manner of his time, this is always something there”.
Beethoven also held Handel in particularly high regard, announcing him to be, “the master of all of us… the greatest composer. I had to bow my head and kneel in front of his grave”.
Beethoven points out the great ability, undoubtable talent, and influential nature of the great artist, “Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means”.
Handel (centre) and King George I on the River Thames, 17 July 1717, by Edouard Hamman (1819–88).(Wikipedia)
The inherent genius, born into a family without music inclination
George Frideric Handel was born February 23, 1685 and died on April 14, 1759, at the age 74. He was a Baroque English-German composer, best known for opera, oratorio, anthem, and concerto organ.
Handel was born into a family with no music inclination in Halle, Brandenburg, Prussia (Germany). Despite this his talent was evident. Thus, harbouring great aspirations, he was trained in Halle, Hamburg, and Italy before moving to London in 1712, where he obtained British citizenship in 1727. By then, he was deeply inspired and later influenced by the great Baroque composers of Italy, and the choral traditions of central Germany.
Since his early childhood, despite of being prevented from using any musical intrument by his father, Handel found means to get a little clavichord privately conveyed to a room at the top of the house. To this room he constantly stole when the family was asleep. (By Margaret Isabel Dicksee 1893) – (Wikipedia)
After only 15 years, Handel had founded three opera companies dedicated to composing Italian operatic music to entertain British aristocrats. However, the public came primarily to enjoy the voices of the singers rather than his music.
Despite his widely recognized talent, Handel received considerable criticism from his contemporaries. He was condemned of commercializing his music. Some even commented that “He travelled widely, hobnobbed, wheeled and dealed, to please the wealthy, the powerful and the masses. He wrote for maximum impact and maximum income”.
His statement of, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better”, was ignored.
It was because of this, that despite his giant catalog of compositions in the form of opera, consisting of 42 pieces, his ultimate goal was still not fulfilled.<
It was only when he sought inspiration from the Bible, that his long desired and long overdue recognition was realized.
Händel-Haus (de), birthplace of Handel. (Wikipedia)
The historic and miraculous work ‘The Messiah’
With his indisputable competence, Handel, undoubtedly, succeeded in embedding his noble ideologies into his work.
It was commented that, “The main inspiration embodied in Handel’s oratorios is ethos, sublimed not only by the solemnity of religious rituals but also by the noble ideology of humanity”.
‘For us a child is born’, from the Messiah – Handel. (Pixabay)
His oratorios were claimed to have lifted humanity to a higher realm. It can be best described by the quote of Horace Walpole, 1717-1797, 4th earl of Orford and British writer and historian. “[Handel’s] oratorios thrive abundantly – for my part, they give me an idea of heaven, where everybody is to sing whether they have voices or not”.
His most famous work, the oratorio ‘Messiah’ with its ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, is amongst the most popular works in choral music history and has become the centerpiece of the Christmas season.
When Handel finished writing this piece, it was said that a maid came and saw him with tears in his eyes. Handel said, “I think that we have seen the heavens unfolding and I see the Messiah himself sitting there”.
Handel wrote ‘The Messiah’ in just 24 days, an incredibly short time for such a complex and affecting oratorio. The complete works are 256 pages long, and include 53 movements and compositions.
At the end of the manuscript Handel writes “SDG” meaning ‘Solo Deo Gloria’ or ‘Glory is for him only’. This phrase, along with the speed with which he was able to complete the piece, reinforce the belief that Handel received divine guidance while writing the biblical narrative of the oratorio. He narrates the experience he had whilst writing the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus by saying, “I saw heaven right before my eyes”.
George Frideric Handel’s autograph manuscript of the title page of Messiah, 1741. (Wikipedia)
Portrait of George Frideric Handel by Thomas Hudson. (Wikipedia)
A groundbreaking performance
It can be said that Handel was the first and only person to defy all limits by presenting an oratorio not in a church but in a theatre.
The 1750 performance of ‘Messiah’ benefiting the Foundling Hospital, was considered a great success and was followed by annual concerts that continued throughout his life.
The chapel of London’s Foundling Hospital, the venue performances of Messiah. (Wikipedia)
Because of the overwhelming crowd, an extraordinary 700 people were admitted into the theater. The organizers famously asked the men not to wear swords and for the women not to wear dress frames, to avoid entanglement. Despite the huge audience, there were still hundreds left standing outside.
The press complimented the performance by saying, “we need to find the words to express the great happiness that the performance has given to the audience”.
The statue erected in Handel’s honour, in Vauxhall Gardens, London; now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.(Wikipedia)
After Handel’s death, many composers wrote works based on or inspired by his music. The first movement from Louis Spohr’s Symphony No. 6, Op. 116, “The Age of Bach and Handel”, resembles two melodies from Handel’s Messiah.
Several works by the French composer Félix-Alexandre Guilmant, use Handel’s themes, for example his March on a Theme by Handel uses a theme from Messiah.
His inspirational works live on today as some of the most instantly recognisable movements ever composed. It could be said that his work transcends to godly in its power and his influence will, similarly, surely never fade.