HAENDEL (GEORG FRIEDRICH)

Georg Friedrich Haendel (1685-1759) composer of German origin, virtuoso of the harpsichord and the organ, was born in Halle (Germany). Naturalized British in 1726, he took the name of Georges Frideric Händel and died in London, paralyzed and blind, at the age of 76.

His father, Lutheran, doctor-barber (surgeon) at the court of the Dukes of Saxony, intended him for a career as a magistrate. His mother, daughter of a pastor, secretly encouraged him in his vocation as a musician. A music-loving prince, having heard the child play the organ in the palace chapel, is said to have intervened to convince the father. The child is authorized to follow the teaching of Zachow, organist of the Notre-Dame de Halle church, which [introduced him to counterpoint and Italian music.

Having became an organist at the Calvinist cathedral in Halle, Handel also practiced composition. His first works performed in Hamburg at the Gänsemarkt, the first and only public opera in Germany (1705) opened the doors of the main courts and capitals of Europe to him. Having chosen the opera, Handel decides to leave for Italy, the homeland of bel canto, and responds to the invitation of Gian Gastonede ’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The trip lasts three years: Florence, Rome, Naples and ends in Venice in 1709 with the success of Agrippina, his first "Italian" opera.

Handel leaves Venice for Hanover where the Prince Elector offers him the post of chapel master (1710-1712). During a stay in London, he triumphed at the Queen’s theater with "Rinaldo", the first Italian opera premiered in England (1711).  As he had done for Italy and Germany, Handel feeds on music from England (Purcell died in 1695). Returning to Hanover, he decided to return to London to settle there (1714). Welcomed by patron Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, he composed operas and works in his new homeland such as "The Ode for Queen Anne's Birthday" and the "Te Deum Jubilate" in English to celebrate the peace of Utrecht of 1713.

After 1710, Handel borrows from the English musical tradition. He composed eleven "Chandos Anthems" for the anglican Church during a stay at the Château de Cannons with the Duke of Chandos (1717-1718). Master of the London Opera, director of the Royal Academy of Music (1720), the composer triumphs over his rivals, imposes his works and his performers. During the last years of his life, Handel, who devoted himself to oratorio and instrumental music, composed a great deal and improvised numerous organ concertos. His health declined, he suffered from attacks of paralysis. Having had a cataract operation, he lost his sight, like J.S. Bach. Händel died in London on April 14, 1759. He rests at Westminster Abbey.

Handel's music borrows from different styles: - counterpoint, oratorio and German Passions, - English religious music - melody and lightness, the beautiful canto of the Italians, - the majesty and range of the "French" steps In his work, Handel uses no less than six languages. He produced more than 600 works, in all genres of the time:

  • - 42 operas: mostly seria, "Italian" style, alternating recitative and aria
  • - 32 oratorios
  • - numerous cantatas and religious plays
  • - sonatas and concertos 
  • - pieces for harpsichord

His most famous works today is The Messiah, an oratorio that he composes in just twenty-four days, a masterpiece of the genre; the orchestral suites "Water Music" performed during King George's voyage on the Thames (1717) and Music for the Royal Fireworks.

They are two representative compositions of a kind of solemn music conceived for their outdoor performance, the forerunners of which were the French Jean-Baptiste Lully and Michel-Richard Delalande. 

© Didier Chagnas

HAENDEL (GEORG FRIEDRICH)