Here are the facts about the great composer – George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759).
Facts About George Frideric Handel:
- George Frideric Handel was born on 23rd February 1685 – the same year as two other composers were born; Domenico Scarlatti and Johann Sebastian Bach.
- Bach is quoted as having said about Handel that he ‘is the only person I would wish to see before I die and the only person I would wish to be were I not Bach’. Beethoven was equally effusive; ‘Handel was the master of us all….the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb.’
- Little is known about George Frideric Handel’s personal life, which was kept very private, except that he ate and drunk too much – he became obese in later years – and was bad-tempered. It has been suggested that he might have been gay because he was commissioned by a number of gays, rich benefactors. In the 17th century men of influence and money always married to protect their financial property but there was no necessity to love a spouse; relationships with other men outside of their marriages weren’t uncommon. He was also reported to have had a brief dalliance in Rome with the Italian soprano, Vittoria Tarquini, who was sixteen years his senior.
- The march from his opera Scipio, which was first performed in 1726 became the regimental slow march for the British Coldstream Guards.
- The last musical performance attended by Handel was of one his own works, Messiah, in 1759; shortly afterwards, he died.
- Unlike many musicians of the time, Handel amassed a huge wealth and, on his death, he was worth around £20,000 which was a lot of money in today’s terms. Most of it was left to a niece in Germany.
- The Hallelujah Chorus from his oratorio, Messiah, is especially celebrated because it is one of the few works where the audience is expected to stand. This is in recognition of King George III who, at the premiere, stood up during the piece. It is not known why he did so, but it is assumed that it was a mark of respect for the great work rather than a desire to use the lavatory.
- When he was young, his father, a valet and barber, forbade him to play the clavichord because he wanted a legal future for his son. Apparently, a clavichord was smuggled into the attic of their house and young Handel practised it unbeknown to his father.
- When he was only five, he was taken to visit a family member who was employed as a butler at the house of Duke Johann Adolf I. Having been sat on the stool of the organ, he suddenly started to play – to the astonishment of everyone. The Duke managed to convince his father that the boy should receive lessons and he was subsequently harmony, counterpoint and musical analysis by the court composer, Freidrich Wilhelm Zachow. He was also taught to play violin, oboe, organ and harpsichord.
- Most of Handel’s adult life was spent in London, England after he was offered a position by Queen Anne with the princely annual salary of £200.
- He spent the years from 1723 until 1759 when he died, living at 25 Brook Street in Mayfair London. Incidentally, that address was later inhabited another popular musician of his day. In 1968 Jimi Hendrix returned to London and moved into the upstairs flat of 25 Brook Street which had been rented by his girlfriend for him. When Hendrix found out about his famous ex-neighbour, he went out and bought Handel’s Messiah and Water Music albums from a nearby record store.
- Handel was nearly killed by his best friend, composer, Johann Mattheson before he’d written anything of any note. The two of them suddenly quarrelled during the performance of one of Matheson’s operas – Cleopatra – in 1704, and they duelled. Thankfully, Handel was saved by a large button on his tunic which deflected Matheson’s sword. Shortly after they were reconciled and remained good friends for the rest of their lives until Handel died in 1759.
- Although he lived to 74, and he wrote most of his most celebrated music late in life, Handel did suffer from health issues; he suffered a stroke in 1737 which mean that his right arm was partially paralysed and which stopped him performing; he was involved in a severe coach crash between The Hague and Haarlem, in Holland in 1750, from which he was lucky to survive with only minor injuries. At the time he was also beginning to suffer from cataracts and the subsequent operation to remove them in 1751 went disastrously wrong and resulted in him going blind.
- Buried in Westminster Abbey in London after a full State funeral attended by 3,000 people, Handel was regarded as more British than German – he’d become a naturalised British citizen in 1726.
- Despite his father dying in 1697, and, as his father had wished, Handel studied Law at the University in Halle – but he soon gave it up for music and became an organist instead.
- Another of Handel’s famous works, the anthem, Zadok the Priest, will be known to football supporters all over Europe as the main theme from it was used as the ‘basis’ for the tune of the Champions League Anthem. Played at every opportunity during Champions League broadcasts, the theme is instantly recognisable as Zadok despite the protestations as to its originality by the composer, Tony Britten.
- The first playing of Handel’s Water Music suite was an exhausting one. Played from a barge close to the Royal Barge, King George was apparently so taken by the music that he insisted that they played it again…and again.
- Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, was first performed in Dublin in front of 700 people – the women were requested to wear dresses ‘without hoops’ in order that there would be room for more people. Part of the reason for the huge attendance was because the audience wanted to set eyes upon the contralto soloist, Susannah Cibber, who was, at the time, going through a scandalous divorce. Messiah was, however, a huge success.