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Handel, George Frederick

Now approaches the greatest period of Handel's life, for his oratorios not only brought back his fortune but are his most famous compositions, of which Saul commenced a long series. It was performed early in 1739 and was followed by Israel in Egypt. In 1739 he composed the music to Dryden's Ode to St. Cecilia and the next year appeared the music to Milton's L'Allegro and II Penseroso. . His efforts, however, seemed no longer appreciated and he was thinking of leaving England, when he was requested to visit Dublin by the Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He composed the Messiah in the incredibly short period of twenty-one days, and dedicated it to the Irish people. Its performance was given to free those languishing in the debtors' prison. He afterwards said of the Hallelujah Chorus, " I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the Great God himself." His tears fell on the paper as he wrote. Dublin was quite a musical center at this time and Handel was received with enthusiasm and given one ovation after another. The Messiah was given in April, 1842, before a crowded audience. After nine months in Dublin, Handel returned to London, where the news of his success had preceded him. His exquisite music had been gradually cultivating the taste of the English people and now his popularity became boundless. The Messiah was first performed there in March, 1743, and the audience was quite carried away with its beauty and when the Hallelujah Chorus began with its " For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth," they all, the King included, sprang to their feet and remained standing until the chorus ended. This incident originated the custom of standing during this chorus. It was performed annually for years, for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital. His next oratorio, Samson, appeared the same year, and it received almost equal favor. Of later oratorios, Judas Maccabaeus alone had equal and lasting success. The oratorios, Semele and Joseph, were also composed in 1743 The next year appeared Belshazzar and Heracles; in 1746, Occasional Oratorios; in 1747, Joshua and Alexander Balus; in 1748, Solomon and Susannah; in 1749, Theodora; in 1750, The Choice of Hercules, and in 1751, Jephthah, the last written wholly with his own hands. Mozart rescored the Messiah, Alexander's Feast, Acis and Galatea, and Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, adding the richer coloring of the modern orchestra. In 1752 Handel was attacked with blindness and an operation was unsuccessful. He did not let his misfortune weigh him down but continued to direct his performances with the aid of his pupil and protege, John Christian Smith. In 1757 he made the final arrangement of the Italian oratorio, The Triumph of Time and Peace. There is a deep significance at Handel's closing his long career with the same work which stands at its beginning, and its title seems almost to symbolize his own life. His last effort was to assist at a performance of the Messiah on April 6, 1759. He was seized with a deadly faintness and never again left his bed. He died on Saturday, April 14, following Good Friday. He was conscious to the last. One of his friends said:   " He died as he lived, a good Christian, with a true sense of his duty to God, and man, and in perfect charity to all the world." He was buried in the south transept of Westminster Abbey, before " a vast concourse of persons of all ranks, not fewer than three thousand in number." He left his score of the Messiah to the Foundling Hospital and his manuscript to his protege, Smith, who in turn, presented them all to George III. They are now in the Musical Library of Buckingham Palace and consist of thirtytwo volumes of operas, twenty-one volumes of oratorios, seven volumes of odes and serenatas, twelve volumes of sacred music, eleven volumes of cantatas and sketches, and five volumes of instrumental music. A smaller collection of original manuscripts is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Handel never married, his art being all in all to him. He was tall and robust, and his movements somewhat clumsy. His features were animated and dignified. He was very outspoken, sometimes profane, and occasionally his temper got the best of him. He was naturally a wit and had a way of making commonplace matters interesting. His determination was unyielding, he was sincerely devout and had a high sense of honor ; and his fidelity to his mother was beautiful His private charities were munificent and he was generous to all public institutions, his philanthropy being of the kind that was always ready to offer help. He iden tified himself with the intellectual life of the English and the creations of their most eminent men. His life might be divided into three parts: up to 1720 was preparatory, from that year until 1737 he was devoted to opera, and from then until his death he was occupied with his real lifework, his oratorios. These hold the same place in music that Shakespeare's plays hold in English drama. It is as a vocal and, above all, as a choral writer that Handel is supreme. He developed the resources of the chorus as no one else ever did.