George Frideric Handel
GERMAN-BORN BRITISH COMPOSER
Considered as one of the greatest Baroque-era composers of all time, George Frideric Handel was born in the city of Halle in the Duchy of Magdeburg in the former Kingdom of Prussia. He was born to Georg Händel, a prominent barber-surgeon who served the nobility, and Dorothea Taust.
Between the ages of seven and nine years old, Handel went with his father to Weissenfels where he was noticed by Duke Johann Adolf I, who was one of several notable figures that Handel always regarded as a benefactor. Overhearing a performance by the boy on the organ, the Duke, whose suggestions can’t be disregarded, recommended to Händel’s father that the young man be given a musical education.
Handel’s father would ask the organist at the Halle parish church, Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, to teach his son music. Zachow would be the only teacher Handel would ever have, and it would prove to be more than enough for him in the long run.
When Handel turned 18 in 1703, he decided that he would fully commit to music. As such, he accepted the position of violinist at the Goose Market Theater of the Hamburg Opera. During this time, he also added to his income by teaching private music lessons, passing onto his students the concepts he learned from Zachow.
Handel’s immense skill on the harpsichord and organ started earning him major attention from the public. Eventually, he would get more and more opportunities to perform in operas. This would also make Handel compose his own operas. And in 1705, he would make his operatic debut with Almira.
The opera opened to instant success, having a good run with 20 performances. He would compose a few more popular operas, and in 1706 decided to try his in Italy, where opera is basically a religion. While there, he wrote two operas: Rodrigo and Agrippina, produced in 1707 and 1709. Aside from this, he was also able to write several dramatic chamber works.
He toured major Italian cities over three operatic seasons, which allowed him to introduce himself to most of the country’s best musicians. Despite this, he was enticed to try out the British market, and in 1710 Handel left Venice and for London. While there, Handel was commissioned to write an opera by the manager of the King’s Theatre. He went on to compose Rinaldo in only two weeks. This would be his most critically acclaimed work to date, catapulting him to worldwide fame.
Handel would go on to compose more works, most of them oratorios, until his final years. He would die in London on the 14th of April 1759, at 74.
Did You Know?
If not for a freaky stroke of luck, Handel would probably have not ended up as one of history’s greatest composers. In 1704, he had a vicious quarrel with fellow composer Johann Mattheson: so vicious that the two agreed to a duel. Mattheson almost killed Handel with a thrust to the chest, but the sword struck a button on Handel’s clothes which helped save him.
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