Handel, George Frederick

1685-1759

One of the world's most gifted musicians, who was born at Halle, on the Saale, Lower Saxony, of a family which possessed no musical talent. His father, a surgeon-barber attached to the ducal court of Saxony at Weissenfels, was sixty-three years old when this son was born. His mother was the daughter of a pastor at Geibichenstein, near Halle. The family name, correctly spelled, is Handel, and is always so written by German writers. It has also been spelled Hendeler, Handeler, Hendtler, and in England, Hendel. His father was very proud of him and though he had been content for his other sons to follow humble professions, George was destined to be a doctor of laws. Consequently he discouraged the early signs of an aptitude for music, avoiding the homes where it might be heard and even keeping the boy out of school, lest he might there learn something of it. When he was about seven years old his father had some business at the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. Determined to go, though his father forbade, he followed the carriage at a little distance, overtaking it at the first stop, and with tears and entreat- ies prevailed upon his father to allow him to proceed. The Duke was a great patron of music and one evening, hearing the little fellow at the organ, where he had playfully been placed, he was astonished at his wonderful talent. Calling to him the elder Handel, he expostulated with him, that so much evidence of ability should not receive instruction, and urged the surgeon to encourage such extraordinary genius. Accordingly, upon their return home, George was placed under the organist Zachau, for instruction. The lad made fine progress, studying singing, the organ, clavier, violin and all the other instruments then used in orchestral playing. When about eleven he composed six sonatas for two oboes and bass which show skill and feeling. He was also very diligent on the clavichord. The orean was his favorite instrument, its grandness and majesty appealed to him, and he was great in improvising.

About 1696 he went to Berlin and there met Buononcini, who was later to become his rival in England, and Father Ariosti, a distinguished master of the clavier, who was delighted with the boy and gave him many good suggestions. After his father's death, in 1697, he continued his studies, even entering the University of Halle in 1762 to study law, thus carrying out his father's wishes. He also held a position as organist. His natural inclination conquered, however, and the next year he went to Hamburg, which at this time was in the height of its musical prosperity. Here he wrote his Passion Oratorio which was composed for Holy Week. It disappeared for a long time but was discovered a lew years ago, and published by the German Handel Society in 1860. In Hamburg he made the acquaintance of Mattheson, which acquaintance ripened into friendship which was only broken once, and that by a duel, when a broad metal button on Handel's coat probably saved his life. From different sources he had ob- tained money enough to save two hundred ducats, besides repaying money he had borrowed from his mother. With his savings he went to Italy and spent most of the next thirteen years in travel. After a few months' visit in Rome, during the opera season, he went to Florence where he produced his first Italian opera, Rodrigo, which won for him immediate popularity. The leading role was sung by the famous Vittoria Tesi and such was her admiration for the composer that she followed him to Venice, appearing in his opera Agrippina. This was his most successful work up to this time and the audience went wild over it. His return to Rome was welcomed by the Arcadia, a society for the promotion of the arts and sciences, composed of men of genius from all over Europe. Handel, being only twenty-three, was too young to become a member. The following months in Rome formed, probably, the happiest period of his life. He was enthusiastically greeted, drawn into the most intellectual and brilliant society in Italy and devoted to perfecting himself in his art. His composition shows much change, while in Italy, from being dry and stiff, to more natural musical expression and the spontaneous, flowing melody, typical of bright sunshine and southern skies. He also learned the Italian secret of effectively writing for the voice.

Returning to Germany, in 1710, he visited his mother, then sixty years old. Reaching Hanover, he was appointed chapelmaster and accepted the position on condition that he be granted a year's leave of absence, in order to visit England. His first work in London was his opera, Rinaldo, composed in two weeks' time and successfully produced at the Haymarket Theatre, appearing night after night for weeks. It was with much reluctance that he returned to Hanover, where, though his salary was large, the field was limited and he longed for London where opportunities and musical people were plentiful.