July 6, 2022


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Handel: A Musical Life of Devotion

Handel: A life dedicated to musical devotion

On 23 February 1685, a great gift for music was born in Halle (Germany). It was a life of musical interest, filled with incredible talent that would be a beacon for many across Europe and last centuries. It would be a life centered on the mystery of how musical talent would blossom into a celebrated gift. A life that would change the musical landscape in just 24 days and become an influential musical composer for many years to come.

George Frideric Handel will forever be remembered as a musical life that would struggle to exist in the beginning. Many musical achievements can be attributed to Handel. He created his unique works by combining German and French musical traditions into his highly-acclaimed English Oratorios. The Messiah, Handel’s greatest gift to humanity and music in general. How does this one musician’s work have such an impact on music today? What can possibly make Handel’s music memorable, innovative, and cutting-edge? How could one person change the musical idiom by creating a twenty-four-day setting of Christ’s life in music? These questions will help me explore Handel’s influence on music. I’ll also be highlighting the importance of Handel as an inventor, musician, teacher, inventor, and religious preserver. We owe a lot of musical progress to Handel.

Handel was exposed to adversity early in his life. Handel was faced at an early age with a father who didn’t support a career as a musician. In fact, his father was very anti-music and felt that music was only a hobby that could be used to expose the weaknesses in character. His father wanted him to pursue a career in law, which would provide financial stability and a lot of security. Handel would have to accept this because he was born with “signs a fierce ambition, born out of an awareness his superiority in music and a determination not to be influenced by others.” It took much effort and convincing to convince his mother to allow him access to the clavichord in their attic. He spent hours hiding in the attic from his father, covering the strings with cloth to dampen its sound. This allowed George to practice his musical skills and eventually learn how to play the organ and clavichord. Handel’s musical career was saved by this early study. A young Duke passed by and saw young George in the attic. He was so moved by the sounds that he stopped to listen. The Duke begged George’s father for permission to go to Berlin to learn music lessons after hearing George play the organ. At eight years old, Handel started lessons. He was able to learn the violin, composition, theory, and harpsichord and improve his organ playing skills. George was 11 years old when he realized that there was little that any music teacher could teach him. George’s father became angry again and asked that George stop playing in music and return home to do what he wanted. At the request of his father, Handel did indeed return home and was able to reach his father’s grave. The young Handel was forced to endure a difficult period of struggle. George decided to continue his law studies, but he also continued to improve his musical skills. Handel started to compose cantatas during this period for the churches he was working as an organist. Handel was drawn to music service at the age of eighteen. He realized that it was his destiny to be a great musician and that he had to increase his musical skills and knowledge.

He left his hometown of Halle to embark on a series on travels that would influence the musical side of Handel’s view on music. Handel’s travels to cities and towns would influence all aspects of music. It was Hamburg that would be his first stop on the path to musical greatness. Handel was first introduced to opera during his stay in Hamburg. Handel was soon given a second violin position in the orchestra. It was during this time that Handel was introduced to opera. He was described as “large and very portly”, with a short temper, and an appearance that was “somewhat heavy-sour.” Many would view Handel’s personality as a dual-edged sword. On one side, he was intelligent and had a great sense of humor. However, Handel also displayed a hot temper and possessed an inordinate amount of reliability and integrity. Handel was vocal and short-tempered about his opinions on life, music and everything else. This personality would become a key part of Handel’s musical career. It was only shortly after he began working in Hamburg at Opera house that George was allowed to show his incredible talent at the Harpsichord. However, it was this talent that caused George, now 22 years old, to vocally disagree on a Mattheson composition. This brief fuse of Handel’s almost ended his career and life. However, the spunk Handel displayed also allowed him to attract the attention of Prince Ferdinando de’Medici, a young prince who would be impressed by the Handel’s music. Handel was then asked to leave Hamburg and travel to Italy to be surrounded by new music composers.

Handel’s move to Italy was a thrilling time. Handel was at a stage in his life where his primary motivation was to gain experience. In the case of Italy, the goal was to learn as much from the great composers and to enjoy their operas. Handel’s musical career was greatly influenced by his time in Italy. Handel was exposed to some of the most important forms of music in the world, including opera, cantatas and chamber cantatas. Handel spent this time acquiring new knowledge and defining his compositional skills.

Handel had the luxury of setting no limits on what his music could take. This was possible because of the generosity of those who were able and willing to support him. Handel, a Prince Francesco Ruspoli member, was allowed to explore compositional aspects as well as dig into the music that so intrigued him. However, it wasn’t until 1710 when Handel would realize his musical potential and become one of the most important musicians of all time. Handel returned to Germany in 1710. He would take over the Kapellmeister role of George Louis, the Elector of England, and he would be back in Germany by the year 1710. Handel, who was already in Hanover, was soon convinced to go to England with Prince George. His mother Sophia was the English Elector and Prince George would ultimately take the throne in England (1714). Handel was captivated by London’s Queen’s Theater during his first visits. It was there that Handel decided to create an opera that was both Italian-inspired and specifically adapted for London. The first production of Rinaldo took place in 1711. It was a little over a dozen performances that were all considered huge successes. This was the beginning of Handel’s move from Italy to England.

Handel’s decision to move to England was a good one overall. It led to his eventual desire to become a British citizen. After settling down in England, Handel accepted the position of music director at the Royal Academy of Music in 1720. The academy was the centre for operatic studies for many decades after its opening. This is due in large part to Handel’s presence and his ability attract the best singers who would perform the works he wrote. As with any worthwhile project that deals with the brightest and most famous stars, the academy saw a decline in its stature and operations. This was due to the increased demands placed on it by the singers both financially and performance-wise. These internal conflicts between performers, patrons and rival composers were the only reason for this decline. Handel’s temper and short fuse were not helpful at this time. He was involved in many of these quarrels, but he was clever enough humor and quick wit to make things better and bring an end to the tensions. Although this did not benefit the academy long-term, it allowed Handel to concentrate on his career and gave him time to prepare for the necessary shift in musical direction. The opera had become an unviable musical performance option in England.

Handel was able to make the shift from opera. His ambition and determination in music allowed him to find an internal motivation to help him win fame and fortune. Because of Handel’s desire to serve music and people, this was something that would be a great help to him. Handel was able to enjoy a lot of success in his music and his career, even though he was living in England during the transition from Operatic to English Oratorio composition. This helped Handel to gain popularity as many people saw Handel’s music as “property for the people, familiar with, understood and loved”. This was also related to many English subjects, as well as the “work of no other great master the whole world over.”

Handel’s entire history shows that he had a broad cultural experience, which gave him a wider range of options and a greater variety of cultures to draw from. Handel gained the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the music industry through his exposure to different cultures, musical styles, composers and patrons. However, the experiences did not make him a unique person that was valued by others. Handel’s personal qualities were what made him a beloved and respected person. Handel’s personality was unique in that it contained every possible aspect of his personality. He had a drive, determination, ability to make people laugh and a sense for quick wittedness. He also had a devotion to God, honesty, integrity, love of music, and devotion to religion. Handel was a tireless worker for the people, his religion, and the music. Handel’s inability to stop anything from hindering his success is an example. Handel was struck with a stroke in 1737 that almost ended his life. Handel was paralysed in his right arm, which prevented him from performing and had a profound effect on his mind. Handel continued to be active during this period, even though the public didn’t like them. Handel persevered through every obstacle, even eventual blindness which took a toll upon his compositions. Finally, Handel was able to play his organ music from memory. Ironically, Handel was determined to succeed. It was this determination that made him withdraw from society and life, but he was loved by everyone. Handel spent most of his life away from the world and daily life to concentrate on his music. He never married and had no children. He was a man who devoted his entire life to his music and the people.

Handel’s influence on music was enormous. The style and techniques he was able incorporate into his daily musical vocabulary were a blend of major European styles Handel had encountered while traveling from Halle to Hanover to Hamburg, Italy, and England. Simply put, Handel combined the best of each style and created one Handelian style, which would be a standard for musical compositions. This allowed him to become a composer in England (the country that was most open to foreign composers at the time). Handel was familiar with the Lutheran church music he grew up in, so he had a strong foundation. This attention to the harmony and counterpoint of music allowed him to create rich, lush compositions from the sacred cantatas to the opera and then to the English Oratorios. Handel’s style was distinctive in that he was always aware of changing trends, but his writing style remained the same. He has such a gift for writing melodies one wouldn’t realize how many times there was no harmony under the melody line. The melodies were strong and self-sustaining, and didn’t need any support from a harmony to get them through. Handel’s strong compositional style included the “borrowing” of materials. Handel used musical ideas borrowed from others to create new musical ideas. Handel used the technique of borrowing or reusing musical material from his own works, but he preferred to use material from other composers. This was done in many ways. One method was to simply take whole pieces or movements from one work and then reuse them in another. Another was to borrow material from a writer and then rework it into new compositions. As shown in the Choruses of Messiah and Belshazzar’s feast, using the Italian duet “for to us a child is birth.” Handel is the only one who used the borrowing technique. It seems that the practice ended in the 1930s. However, this could be because Handel felt the need to change composition styles and so was able to access a wider range of musical materials. The fact is that Handel’s “borrowing doesn’t affect his status” as a composer. Handel never relied on any piece of music that was created by another person. Although it isn’t known if Handel was influenced by any one composer, it is clear that Handel had an evident influence on every composer who appeared in his time or after his death in 1759.

It was only in the 1930s that Handel would really make an impact on music and musical composition by creating the English Oratorio. The English Oratorio was very similar to the Italian version of the genre. It set dialogue in lyrical verses and recitative verses and then combined foreign elements from French drama, Greek tragedy and German passion. All of these characteristics were enough to make Handel the greatest musician of all time and the most revered person in London and England. The Oratorio’s vocal setting and the addition of the chorus were two of its most significant contributions. This was Handel’s greatest success and the reason for his music’s popularity. Handel was able create unique effects in the orchestration of the vocal scores to create a simple form. The written verses alternated between a fugal style and a solid, harmonic sound. The orchestra was also scored in a way that supported the vocal parts. This made the work easy to sing and accessible to all. It was established that Handel was the musician of the people. This type of music was not meant to be used in churches. The Oratorios were intended for concert hall performances. Thus, even though the Messiah is Handel’s most famous piece, it was considered more of a “sacred entertainment” piece.

Handel’s contributions did not end with the English Oratorio’s new style of music. He also found great success writing instrumental pieces. Handel’s instrumental output provided him with an income that was substantial and helped keep the name Handel in people’s minds and their daily musical activities. He was true to his nature, but he wanted to be as successful in writing as possible. The two works that he wrote in instrumental were intended for the King and were intended to be enjoyed by the public at outdoor performances and social events. Water Music, the first was composed in 1717. It was made up of three suites for strings and winds that were meant to be performed from a boat on Thames. This was to entertain the King while keeping him in good company. Music for the Royal Fireworks is the second of the 1749 works. It was a stunning piece for a large wind section, with strings added later. This piece was meant to be performed in an outdoor London park as part of a celebration of firework displays. Handel had initially objected to the work’s use of stringed instrument, as it was written for military instruments. These two works are directly related to Handel’s desire to keep pushing the boundaries of music and to show how it can be enjoyed by all people in all areas of life.

Messiah, the most important work Handel wrote and one that would be the standard work in sacred composition. It would also receive a lot of homage from composers from all parts of Europe for many decades. Simply because Handel took so long to create the Messiah, it is an extraordinary piece. The work was created from a single thought in a span of only twenty-four days. Handel’s musical genius lies in the way he broke or extended traditional ways of composing music to make an impact on the work that he was involved in. This was possible because of the way he lived his life and the skills he acquired from his many travels. He was able to take an inborn talent and transform it into something that is pure beauty and wonder. Handel chose religious themes for many compositions. This led to more British citizens approving the use of his music as a way of worshipping their god. Handel chose England as his home because the English are a Bible-reading, god-fearing country with strong religious instincts, and reverence for sacred objects. Messiah, Handel’s most famous work, is also the best example of a work that could be used as creative worship music. The work can be divided into three sections: The coming and death of Christ, the suffering and death of Christ, the resurrection. The work had many features that allowed for a variety of emotions, including joy, sadness and fear, as well as love, compassion and dramatic. But no matter what emotion you were trying to express, Handel was able to find a way. And the Messiah was the catalyst.

Many consider the Messiah, written in 1742, to be the greatest oratorio ever written. It contains fifty pieces of music and takes almost three hours to perform. It is remarkable that the entire piece was completed in just twenty-four days. This was accomplished by Handel, who locked himself in his house and refused to be disturbed by anyone. Handel was said to have slept very little and barely ate during this period. This was another testament to the dedication Handel was well-known for. It also played into the fact that Handel simply became part his work and made sure that he gave his all to the music as it was being composed. Although it may have seemed odd that Handel would write such a profound and religious piece, given that he was not religious until later in his life, there are many accounts that claim that the inspiration and motivation for the composition were provided by a “divine source”. Handel said that he saw Heaven before him, and the great God Himself when composing the Hallelujah chorus. It has had a lasting impact on Handel’s reputation as a great composer and musician, but also on the work of other composers who were inspired by Handel’s works. Mozart was one such example. There have also been positive effects from this amazing composition on the tradition and performance aspects of the work. It makes people feel almost spiritual every time it’s played. According to reports, King George II felt so moved during the performance of this composition in London that he stood during the singing of the Hallelujah chorus. Others followed suit and sat with him. This tradition continues today during Handel’s Messiah performances.

As you can see, Handel left a lasting legacy in music composition and music theory. Handel’s dedication to music and his legacy have allowed him to stay with us. His influence can still be felt today, from the standing of the Messiah audience to the musical nods given by composers to Handel in the works. Handel was a person who proved that anyone can achieve what they want. Handel’s early life was filled with hardship. Handel’s father didn’t want him to pursue a career in music. Handel also struggled with the changing musical styles and awkward positions Handel was in when it came to arguments. But Handel persevered. Handel did not show signs of frailty until the end his life. Handel’s career was severely affected by his blindness. This was because large-scale production and revision of large-scale works could not be done. Handel did not stop doing what he did all his life. He continued to work and found new ways to keep up with musical trends. Handel relied on trusted friends to do most of the dictation work. However, Handel eventually became completely blind and was in such bad health that it had to end. Handel died on April 14, 1759. However, this was not his death. It was the beginning of an enduring legacy for the musical stylings of the future.