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George Friedric Handel


Probably best known as the composer of the “Messiah,” George Frederic Handel(his birth certificate actually named him Georg Friederich Handel) was born 1685, which was, strangely enough, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach, also known as one of the greatest Baroque composers. The two never met, but Bach was a fan of Handel’s music as it was very popular at the time. Sparse information is known about his childhood, but we do know that Handel was born in the not large town of Halle, in Saxon Germany. Knowing this, you can go to this now famous city and see the house with the sign,” Handel’s birthplace.” Honestly though, he was born in the house next door.

          Handel’s father was a barber, and in that time period they did a lot more than cutting hair! Small surgeries such as pulling teeth were on the list of requirements for the trade.  According to one encyclopedia, Papa Handel was over 60 years old when Handel was born. Having no use for music himself, he banned it from his house with severity, devoted as he was to the idea of Handel making something of himself as a lawyer in the world.  Luckily for us though, his mother was more sympathetic and smuggled a clavichord, which is an instrument a lot like a piano, only smaller, into the attic of their home where her husband couldn’t see it. 


This is a clavichord, probably not too much different from the one Handel practiced on.

 There he could practice late at night when his father was asleep. Practice made perfect, and in no time at all Handel was a pro.  Sometime after that when Handel was about 8 years old, Papa Handel went out on a very important business trip to the Palace of a Duke in Saxe-Weissenfels. Handel snuck in for the ride. By the time he was found it was too late to take him back, so Papa Handel reluctantly brought him along.  While Papa Handel was busy trimming and curling, Handel caught sight of a beautiful organ in a chapel room of the Duke’s court. Totally forgetting where he was, he wandered over to the instrument and cautiously played some of the music he had taught himself to play at home, getting  louder and louder as he got warmed up . Soon the Duke himself came in(probably to see what all the loud racket was about) and, impressed to see that it was just a tiny child, filled George’s pockets with money and insisted that he take lessons. That Handel did, under a man named Zachau.  At the same time his father still insisted on a profession in Civil Law.


    Soon after that Papa Handel died, leaving Handel(age 17) studying long and hard at the University of Halle. But… his heart wasn’t in it. Dissatisfied,  he then became church organist in Halle. Later he moved to Hamburg, where he played second violin in the opera house orchestra.  After a while when he got tired of playing second violin, he looked into a position to replace the chief organist of Lubeck, who was going to retire. When he learned, however, that whoever got the post also had to marry his daughter he did not accept. The opera-house had new charms as he was promoted to principal harpsichord , another instrument similar to the piano. While in Hamburg he became fast friends with fellow composer Johann Matheson.


             Their first quarrel came in December, 1704.  Matheson was conducting his opera Cleopatra and at the same time taking upon himself the role of Antony.When Matheson was not performing he would replace Handel in the orchestra pit and play the harpsichord, leaving Handel to play second violin. As Antony kills himself in the last half hour of the production, Matheson would jump to the harpsichord, play the finale to revel in the final applause. Until this performance at least. Handel was having such a good time he refused to budge. They scowled. They growled.  And after a few names which sounded all the worse in German, the commenced slugging each other, much to the delight of the audience. Cleopatra even cheered the two on!  The duel carried on till Mattheson’s sword(they came prepared in those days!) hit one of Handel’s buttons and broke.  Resolving their differences there, they parted friends. Handel had learned his lesson and from then on he wore well-sewn, large buttons on all his coats and played only in his own operas.

      Handel wanted more than ANYTHING to go to Italy and study music there. Finally, when he was 21 he had the opportunity to go to Rome. Unfortunately, his timing was a little off. Pope Clement the 4th  had just placed a ban on opera. (That wasn’t half as bad as one of his predecessors, Innocent the 4th. He had the opera house burnt to the ground just to prove that he could!) Seeing that his trip was a complete washout, Handel moved on to Venice where his opera  Agrippina was a big hit.  Matter of fact it was such a big hit that Prince Ernest gave him the job of court musician to the Elector of Hanover, even after sitting though all 27 performances.


           Maybe he just didn’t like small towns, or maybe he just thought that the English audiences would appreciate some new music. After all, they had not had a composer go by that way since Henry Purcell in 1695!  Anyhow, he soon went on a 7 month trip to London, where his Rinaldo was a enormous hit. Just to brief you, it is about an affair that takes place during the first Crusade.  The beautiful queen Armida and Rinaldo, the leader of the crusaders, fall in love. The Shakespearean saying, ” The course of true love never did run smooth,” was especially so in their case. When Rinaldo jilts Armida, she sets fire to her palace. Deeeeeeeep, I know. Whether out of her sadness, or, for insurance I have yet to find out. Well it takes all kinds of people to make the world and the London audience loved this firebug.  The opening march was so popular it became the theme song of the London Life Guards. There is also a scene in which a heroine sings to a group of live birds flying loose which was particularly well recieved. (If you think that was cool you would have loved one of his later operas in which live bears were part of the act.)


             I guess he eventually remembered that he still was under the Elector’s employ. Reluctantly he went back to Hanover.  In a year’s time however, Handel had convinced the Elector to let him go to London again for a ” reasonable amount of time.” This time the trip lasted 50 years, until Handel’s death in 1759! His excuse was that,” it totally slipped my mind.”


            Needless to say, it was very awkward for Handel when the English ruler of that time, Queen Anne died and none other than the very same Elector of Hanover came to rule as George the 1st of England. You would also think that the ability to speak English would be a requirement for any “ENGLISH” king, but I guess George the 1st didn’t think so.  He spoke only German till the day he the 1st

       To soothe the hard feelings between them, Handel composed “Water Music” for a very special royal outing. Squeezing 50 musicians into a boat to casually float beside the royal’s barge never was easy, and the instruments did get a little wet, but it turned out a magnificent sucess.  George loved the dancing  music so much that he ordered it  played a total of 3 times and was more than a little pleased to find that Handel wrote it especially for him.


       That wasn’t the only music Handel composed for a royal outing.  In 1749 Handel was 64.  I guess that George had just proclaimed a victory and wanted to celebrate. Whether or not there was even a victory we are not sure. We only know that he proclaimed one. Only this was George the 2nd. Not that anyone really noticed the difference much, but he did speak english a little bit better than his father had. Anyways, what better way to celebrate than with fireworks? The royal messenger also not too casually mentioned that they still needed someone to compose something for the occasion. Handel got the hint, took off his slippers and went to work on another instrumental piece for the Royal Fireworks.  The music was beautiful, but the rest of the evening was a complete disaster. George had built a tower just for this occasion to shoot the fireworks from, as well as a hundred and one cannons to compliment the music. I am guessing this fella liked his noise.  A fire was accidentally kindled in the tower, resulting in a chain reaction of dangerous explosions. Two people were killed and hundreds wounded. The song is still beautiul though.



                     Singers were an almost constant headache to Handel. One of his most memorable was a soprano named Francessa Cuzzoni.  Handel sent one of a member of his orchestra, Sandoni, to fetch her. She was spoiled, squat and rather temperamental, as Handel only too late found out, but after all she did have a lovely voice. There was also a rumour that Sandoni, who died not too long after they were married was poisoned. Who knows? Maybe he did it to himself diliberatly. Prima Donnas were certianly not known for being easy to live with. Once when she refused to sing an aria the way the composer wanted her to Handel picked her up and held her out of a window, until for some unrecorded reason she agreed that she did see things his way. Upon expansion of the opera Handel hired another soprano from Italy. Her name was Faustina. This, taken as a slight by Cuzzoni sparked ridiculous rivalry ensued between the two sopranos. Handel even wrote the opera  Alessandro so that the songs were evenly balanced in difficulty and even the notes were counted to make sure there was no difference. The general public even took sides in the rivalry between the two prima donnas. During a production half of the audience would be booing while the other half would be cheering on their favorite as they would appear in turn. In a performance of Astianate an honest to goodness fight broke out in the audience. It spread to the stage as the two opponents then flew at each other pulling hair, smashing scenery, fighting tooth and nail and a real catfight carried on. A pamphlet was printed giving, ” The full and true account of the most horrible and bloody battle between Madame Faustina and Madame Cuzzoni.” Entertainment still hasn’t changed much. However, the sopranos were not the only ones who caused a stir.

     A tenor named Gordon was angry over how Handel was accompanying his aria. The argument grew more and more heated as the rehearsal came to a halt. “If you don’t follow me better,” Gordon screamed, ” I’ll jump on your harpsichord and smash it to bits!”  Handel calmly replied, ” Tell me when and I will advertize. More people will come to see you jump than to hear you sing.” Gordon never gave Handel any trouble after that.

    Tenor Matthew Dubourg had a bad habit of “embellishing” upon Handel’s melody, till a performance of the Messiah in which he tried his stunts again. After an elaborate trill he got hopelessly confused as to his pitch, and after trailing around on a false pitch for a couple minutes only by the grace of God he finally found the right key, to which Handel said in a very loud voice which echoed throughout the building, ” Welcome home, Mr. Duborg!”


16th Century opera was a lot….ummm… different that what it is today.  Back(or should I say, Bach) in those days there were two main leading roles in opera.  The leading female was of course the prima donna and the leading male role was played by a castrato called a primo uomo, and maybe a couple of other things that I will not put down. Significant parts were never given to tenors, they sang unimportant and very minute portions.  A castrato named Senesino sang a lot of the male leads in Handel’s operas. He was rude, conceited and not half as good as he imagined himself to be, as many of the castrati of the time typically were. In the 1732 production of Gulio Cesare after he quoted the heroic statement with great zest, ” Cesare non seppe mai che sia timore,” (Cesare does not know what fear is) some of the background props fell down beside him causing him to fall and burst into tears.  The fact that there are hardly any of Handel’s opera’s performed today is due to the not unwelcome absence of castrato singers. David Barber, Canadian journalist, humourist and music critic puts plainly, “The castrato represents what might be the ultimate example of putting art before common sense.”

       Although Handel wrote 40 operas, he is better known for his oratios, which are choral works usually of a religious nature, named for the fact that they were typically at least at first, sung from the oratory of a church.  The most famous oratio is called the Messiah. The words are entirely taken from the text of the KJV bible, but to be most enirely honest some very small portions are paraphrased.  It took Handel just under 3 weeks to compose the Messiah.The advertisements for the first London performance told women to wear skirts without hoops and for the men to leave their swords at home so that it would be possible to fit more people into the building. 700 people were packed into the theatre built for 600. The King himself was in attendance and was so moved by the Hallelujah Chorus that he stood up, hereby starting a tradition carried out to this day called a standing ovation.  Later,when the King paid him compliments on “the noble entertainment”. Handel is said to have remarked,

“My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wished to make them better.”

     These are my two favorite songs from the Messiah. I am sorry that you have to navagate away from this page but I don’t have the programs needed to imbed song clips. I reccomend taking the time to play them.

Hallelujah Chorus

The Hallelujah Chorus pictures to me the coming of Christ to claim his throne and how all knees shall bow at the mention of His name and own Him King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Tis my opinion that this song should always be sung in Forte as loudly as possible for the glory of God!

Rev. 19:6: 11:15, 19:16. “Alleluia for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth”
“… The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever”

 For Unto Us a Child is Born

A very pretty song with lyrics taken from Isaiah 9:6,7

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.


Today we look at these choruses as some of the most majestic music that we have on earth now. Beethoven once said of Handel,”He is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb.” And we know enough of Beethoven to truthfully say that he was not one for giving out compliments of any sort, and this is high praise indeed from the master.
 Although Handel was by no means a saint, or anyone we should idolize, I regard his astounding genius with respect, and admire the talent that God had blessed him with.  He died on Good Friday, 1759 age 74. Even today you can go to see the grave of George Friedric Handel at Westminster Abbey among the final resting places of Royalty, Scientists, Politicians, Authors, Poets, Composers and Musicians in a place of honour. westminster abbey

I  hope that you enjoyed reading this!

God Bless,





Biblical Texts in the Messiah Listed by Song

(1) Overture

(2) Isaiah 40:1-3 “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned …“
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord) make straight in the desert a highway for our God”.
(3) Isaiah 40:4 “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain”
(4) Isaiah 40:5 “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”.
(5) Haggai 2:6&7 “… and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come…”
(6) Malachi 3:2 “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire…”
(7) Malachi 3:3 “… and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness.”
(8) Isaiah 7:14 “… Behold,a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name lmmanuel”.
(9) Isaiah 40:9 & 60:1 “0 Zion,that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain;O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God. Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee”.
(10) Isaiah 60:2&3 “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall rise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee”. “And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising:”
(11) Isaiah 9:2 “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined!”
(12) Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”
(13) Pastoral Symphony.
(14) Luke 2:8&9 “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid”.

(15) Luke 2: l0 &11 ‘And the angel said unto them, fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord”.
(16) Luke 2:13 “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying”.
(17) Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”.

(18) Zechariah 9: pt.9 & pt.14 ” Rejoice greatly, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy king cometh unto thee …“
(Added by Handel)
“He, is the righteous Saviour” (Then part of verse 10) “he shall speak peace unto the heathen …“
(19) Isaiah 35:5&6 “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped”. “Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and:the tongue of the dumb sing …“
(20) Isaiah 40:11 and Matthew 11 :28 & 29 “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young”.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls”.

(21) Matthew 11:30 “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.
(22) John 1:29. “… Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”.
(23) Isaiah 53:3 & 50:6 “He is despised and rejected of men: a man of sorrows and aquainted with grief…”
“I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting”.

(24) Isaiah 53:4&5 “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…. he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him …“
(25) Isaiah 53:5 “… and with his stripes we are healed”.
(26) Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all”.
(27) Psalm 22:7 “All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, and shake the head saying”.
(28) Psalm 22:8. “He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him”.

(29) Psalm 69:20 “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none”.
(30) Lamentations 1:12 “… behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow”.
(31) Isaiah 53:8 “He was taken from prison and from judgement: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken”.
(32) Psalm 16:10 “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell: neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption”.
(33) Psalm 24:10 “Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory”.
(34) Hebrews 1:5 “… unto which of the angels said he at anytime, thou art my beloved Son, this day have I begotten thee?
(35) Hebrews 1:6 ”… let all the angels of God worship him”.

(36) Psalm 68:18 “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them”.
(37) Psalm 68:11 “The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those that published it”.
(38) Romans 10:15 “… How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.”
(39) Romans 10:18 “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world”.
(40) Psalm 2:1 &2 “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing! The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed saying”.
(41) Psalm 2:3 “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us”.
(42) Psalm 2:4 “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The Lord shall have them in derision”.
(43) Psalm 2:9 ”Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron: thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potters vessel”.
(44) Rev. 19:6: 11:15 and 19:16. “. . ,Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth”.
“… The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever”

(45) Job 19:25: 19:26 and I Corinthians 15:20. “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see GOD”. “ But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first:fruits of them that slept”.
(46) I Corinthians 15:21 & 22. “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”.
(47) I Corinthians 15:51 & 52. ”Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump.”

(48) I Corinthians 15:52 and 15:53. “… for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”.
(49) I Corinthians 15:54, ” … then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory”.
(50) I Corinthians 15:55 & 56. “0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory?”
“The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law”.
(51) I Corinthians 15:57. “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(52) Romans 8:31, 33 and 34. “…lf God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God That justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died: yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”
(53) Revelation 5:12, 5:9, 5 12 and 5:13. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain…”
“.. .and has redeemed us to God by thy blood …“ “to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing”.
“Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb for ever and ever”. Amen.


October 3, 2009 Posted by | Musical History | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment