Handel, Or Handel Georg Friedrich, a German composer, born in Halle, Feb. 23, 1685, died in London, April 13,1759. His father was the chamberlain and surgeon of a Saxon prince and also of the elector of Brandenburg, and was G3 years old when the boy was born. His predilection for music was so strong that his father, who wished him to become a lawyer, thought it necessary to lay his interdict upon the study of the art. In his necessity the boy was fain to practise organ music by night upon one of the small clavichords of that period. About 1693 the father was called to Weissenfels by the duke upon business, and the child, then eight or nine years old, was taken with him. A grandson of the elder Handel held at the time some post in the family of the duke, by whom the talents of young Handel were made known to the members of the musical chapel. Upon a Sunday he was taken into the organ loft, and at the close of the service was placed in the organist's seat to play the voluntary. The duke remained to hear him play, and afterward asked who the child was. "Little Handel from Halle, my grandfather's youngest son," was the reply.
The duke's views of music and musicians, and his arguments in their favor, were such as to abate the father's prejudices, and on returning to Halle music was added to the other studies of the child. The teacher chosen was Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau, the first organist and instructor in Halle, a thorough master of the old Saxon school. While pursuing the usual school studies then required of boys intended for the gymnasium and the university, he was kept by Zachau upon contrapuntal and fugal exercises, to steady practice upon the organ and harpsichord, and gradually brought to a familiar practical knowledge of the then principal instruments of the orchestra, the string quartet, the flute, and the oboe. To develop his feeling for musical form, he copied specimens of the style of the principal masters of his time, particularly of the old organists. At least as early as 1G96, when the boy was 11 years old, a friend of the father took him to Berlin and presented him to the elector, afterward Frederick I. of Prussia, who was so much struck by his talents as to offer to take charge of his education and send him to Italy; a favor, however, wisely declined by his father.
During his stay in Berlin the young musician had opportunity of hearing other and far higher music than before, the brothers Bononcini and the composer Attilio being in Frederick's service, and music being in a highly flourishing condition, through the influence of the electress, herself a fine musician. He returned to Halle, to school, and to Zachau, and was afterward bound to home by new and stronger ties; for on Feb. 11, 1697, his father died, and the mother could not part with her only son. No immediate change in the plans laid for the son by the deceased father was made. The boy pursued his studies with such zeal and success as to matriculate in the university of his native city, Feb. 10, 1702. He was already an extraordinary performer upon the harpsichord and organ, a good violinist, and familiar with the instruments then in use. Ten years of constant practice had brought him to that skill in composition by which his musical ideas were thrown upon paper with as much facility as he wrote his native German; but as yet he was not emancipated from the forms of the schools, and wrote a fugue with more ease and elegance than a melody.
On March 13, 1702, Handel, having just completed his 17th year, was formally installed organist of the Domkirche at Halle, with a regular salary and a right of free house rent, amounting in the aggregate to $50 per annum. At the end of the first year he resigned. A new prospect had opened before him. His mother had allowed her son with her blessing to abandon the law. In March, 1703, Handel made music his profession. There was nothing more for him to learn in Halle or Leipsic; but in Hanover the greatest of the Italians then in North Germany, Abb6 Steffani, was chapelmaster; and in Hamburg Reinhard Keiser, the greatest German operatic composer of his day, was astonishing the public by his inexhaustible fund of pleasing popular melody. To these cities the youth bent his steps. Hawkins records Handel's own account of his reception in Hanover: "When I first arrived at Hanover I was a young man under 20. I was acquainted with the merits of Steffani, and he had heard of me. I understood somewhat of music, and could play pretty well on the organ.
He received me with great kindness, and took an early opportunity to introduce me to the princess Sophia and the elector's son, giving them to understand that I was what he was pleased to call a virtuoso in music; he obliged me with instructions for my conduct and behavior during my residence at Hanover; and being called from the city to attend to matters of public concern, he left me in possession of that favor and patronage which himself had enjoyed for a series of years." In June, 1703, Handel, doubtless by advice of Steffani, was in Hamburg. During the short opera season, ending in August, he played second violin in the orchestra, and gave lessons in music. He soon had an opportunity of showing his powers. The harpsichordist being one evening absent, the youthful violinist was persuaded to take the seat, to the astonishment of all the orchestra. Handel's first work of importance in Hamburg was a sort of oratorio on the "Passion," which Chrysander dates during the spring of 1704; his second, the opera Almi-ra, composed in the summer and autumn of the same year.
On the evening of Dec. 5, Mattheson's Cleopatra was performed, the author, a tenor singer, taking the part of Antony. As composer he had the right to direct, and had at previous performances, after the death of the hero, come into the orchestra and taken the direction. On this evening Handel, being at the instrument, refused to give up his seat. On leaving the theatre they drew their swords upon each other in the open market place. The contest ended by the springing of Mattheson's weapon upon a broad metal button of Handel's coat. On Christmas day Keiser and others mediated between them, friendship was restored, Handel dined with Mattheson, and in the evening they attended together the rehearsal of Almira, which was produced Jan. 8, 1705. It ran 20 nights, until replaced by another work from the same pen, Nerone, Handel's second work for the stage. It was given but two or three times, owing to the interruption of Lent. Another work, with a most wretched text, completes the list of those which he wrote for the Hamburg stage; but it was not given till 1708, when the author had been long in Italy, and then owing to its length was divided into two, Florinda and Dafne. During the latter part of his residence in Hamburg Handel's time was fully occupied by his pupils and his studies.
In three years he had saved 200 ducats. One invitation to visit Italy without expense in the train of a prince he had declined. The winter of 1706-7 he passed in Florence with a Tuscan nobleman who had known him and heard his Almira in Hamburg. A Dixit Dominus of his composition shows that he was in Rome in April, 1707. In the autumn he returned to Florence and composed Rodrigo, his first Italian opera, which was received with great applause. In April, 1708, he was again in Rome, as the date upon his oratorio Risurrezione proves, which was followed by a cantata, Il trionfo del tempo e del disingemno. No opera being allowed at that time in Rome, his works there are confined to oratorios and church music. His refusal to change his religion alone prevented him from attaining the highest honors possible for the musical artist in Rome. In the summer of 1708 he was in Naples, where he composed the original Italian Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, and other works of less importance. For the carnival in Venice in the spring of 1709 he composed the opera Agrippina, which was performed with extraordinary success.
Being appointed chapelmaster by the elector of Hanover, afterward George I. of England, which office he accepted on condition of being allowed to visit London, he returned to Germany, spent a year there, and arrived in England near the close of 1710. He was not yet 25 years old, but was already famous as a performer on the organ and harpsichord, and as a composer of Italian operas. On Feb. 24, 1711, Rinaldo was given, which is said to have been composed in a fortnight, and was so much admired that the publisher cleared £1,500 by the sale of the songs and airs. The season closed June 2, and Handel returned to Hanover for a time, during which he composed most of his chamber duets; probably also a large proportion of his instrumental music may be referred to this period. In the summer of 1712 he returned to England, where he produced, on Nov. 26, the short pastoral opera Il pastor fido; Jan. 10, 1713, Teseo; Feb. 6, "Ode on Queen Anne's Birthday;" and in the summer, the "Utrecht Te Deum," which he had completed in January preceding, and for which the queen settled upon him a pension of £200 per annum.
This "Te Deum," which celebrated an event distasteful to the elector, together with Handel's prolonged stay in London, cost him for a time the favor of George. With the exception of Silla, a short opera, written for private performance at Burlington house, he composed no extensive score until the Ameidige in 1715. Meantime Anne had died, and the elector had been crowned king of England, at whose court Handel dared not appear. By advice of Baron Killmansegge and Lord Burlington, he prepared a set of instrumental pieces, employing all the instruments then in use, which were performed, Aug. 22, 1715, on occasion of a grand boat procession on the Thames in which the king took part. This music is the well known "Water Music," and its striking beauties restored the composer to royal favor. Another £200 was added to his salary, which was again increased by a like amount a few years later, when he undertook the musical instruction of the young princesses. In 1716 Handel went with the court to Hanover, and the only important work of this year was the music to Brockes's German poem on the "Passion of Christ." On returning to London he accepted the place of music director to the duke of Chandos, for whose chapel during the next three years he composed the noble works, in three, four, and five parts, known as the "Chandos Anthems," and for whom were written his first English oratorio, " Esther," performed Aug. 29, 1720, and the English "Acis and Galatea." In February, 1719, he wrote to his brother-in-law, saying that he was detained in England by business upon which his future career depended.
This business was an attempt to place Italian opera in London upon a firm foundation, under the name of the "Royal Academy of Music," by a subscription of £50,000 from the king and nobility. He went to the continent, engaged a company of singers, and the royal academy opened April 2, 1720. His Radamisto, first performed here April 27, achieved' great success; but his Italian colleagues now conspired against him, the duchess of Marlborough and her influential wing of fashionable society siding with Bononcini. To settle the rival claims, it was decided that the latter and another Italian and Handel should each compose one act of a new three-act opera, which resulted in their joint production of Muzio Scevola, performed in April, 1721. Although the greatest merit was awarded to the third act, composed by Handel, he and his enterprise were nevertheless subjected to continued hostility. His subsequent operas composed for the royal academy are: Flori-dante, Dec. 9, 1721; Ottone, Jan. 12, 1723; Flavio and Giulio Cesare, 1723; Tamerla-no, 1724; Rodelinda, 1725; Scipione, 1726; Alessandro, May 7, 1726; Admeto, 1727; Si-roe (Cyrus), 1728; Tolommeo, 1728. Twelve operas and a transcendent third act of another, together with his labors as royal chapel-master and director of the opera, would seem to be enough for the productiveness of eight years; but in 1727 he had added to the list of his minor works the noble anthems for the coronation of George II. But with the production of Tolommeo in 1728, the £50,000 subscription was exhausted, and the royal academy was bankrupt.
Handel had now saved £10,000, and determined to risk it in the attempt to carry on an enterprise in which the nobility had signally failed. He therefore formed a partnership for three years with Heidegger of the Haymarket theatre; visited Germany, thence went on to Italy, taking his old friend and monitor Abbe Steffani with him, and returned to London with an excellent company in June, 1729. The season opened Dec. 2. For this enterprise Handel's operatic works were: Lotario, Dec. 2, 1729; Partenope, Feb. 24, 1730; Poro, Feb. 2, 1731; Ezio, Jan. 25, 1732; Sosarme, Feb. 15, 1732; Orlando, Jan. 27, 1733; Ariadne, Jan. 26, 1734; Parnasso in festa (serenata partly new), March 13, 1734; Pastor fido (completely rearranged), June 4, 1734. In addition to his operatic labors, during this time he entered upon a path peculiarly his own. In consequence of certain semi-public performances of his oratorio " Esther," for the benefit of persons who had surreptitiously obtained a copy of the score, Handel, in Lent, 1732, "by his majesty's command " brought it upon the stage of the Haymarket (without action of course), having thoroughly revised it and made several additions. The king and all the royal family were present.
It was given five times, and proved a powerful spur to Handel in that direction in which he stands above all other composers. The proprietors of the English opera, too, had recently brought out his "Acis and Galatea " with action, which led him to produce it also with large additions from his Italian serenata on the same subject, making of it a medley of both languages. The success of "Esther" induced him to try oratorio again, and he prepared "Deborah," which Was given March 17, 1733. In July he conducted the performance of his third English oratorio, "Atlialiah," at Oxford. During the same season the conduct of Senesino, his principal singer, was such that Handel discharged him; and as the composer refused to recall him, a coalition was formed against him, and a rival opera established, with Senesino, Farinelli, and Cuzzoni as principal vocalists, and Porpora and Arrigoni as composers. Handel posted to Italy, engaged a good troupe, and opened the season of 1734 with three operas, the music of which was but arranged with new recitatives by him : Semiramide, Cajo Fabrizio, and Ar-bace. The season ended with the Pastor fido, and with it Handel's engagements with Heidegger. Oct. 5, 1734, ho opened at Lincoln's Inn fields with revivals of Ariadne and Pastor fido, but soon removed to Covent Garden. The first work, mostly original, was Terpsicore, a sort of ballet interspersed with vocal music, followed by Ariodante, an opera, Jan. 8, 1735. During Lent he gave his three oratorios with organ concertos between the acts, and was ready on April 16 with another opera, Alcina. In the autumn Carestini, his first singer, was called by previous engagements to Italy, and during the succeeding winter Handel was forced to depend upon performances of "Esther" and "Acis and Galatea," with one new work, his magnificent music to Dryden's "Alexander's Feast." But succeeding in engaging Conti, a new singer of high reputation, he returned again to opera, producing Ata-lanta, May 12, 1736; Arminio, Jan. 12, 1737; Giustino, Feb. 16, 1737; and Berenice, May 18, 1737. Handel had tried every honorable means to achieve success.
He had given old favorite operas revised, and new ones with extraordinary scenic effects; had prepared a pasticcio or two from the most popular music of his earlier works; had resorted to oratorio, and to the performance of concerts upon harpsichord and organ, wherein he was acknowledged by all to be absolutely without a rival. But London, which had not supported a single exotic opera, could not now, when the novelty was exhausted, encourage two; and with the failure of the Berenice his £10,000 were at an end, and his enemies had the satisfaction of having at length crushed him. But they too were exhausted. Handel closed his theatre in May; they followed in September. Farinelli had deserted them, and they closed their accounts with a loss of £12,000. Before Handel finally gave way to the pressure against him, his health had failed, and soon after the catastrophe an attack of paralysis prostrated him. His friends persuaded him to visit Aix-la-Chapelle; and once there his constitution triumphed; in six weeks he was restored, and returned to London to face his creditors and engage in gigantic labors to discharge his debts.
On Nov. 1 he was again in London; on the 15th he began the opera Faramondo, for the younger Heidegger; on the 20th Queen Caroline died, and the king ordered a funeral; anthem, which was completed in five days, one of Handel's grandest and most touching works; he then took up the opera again, and on Dec. 24 it was completed. Faramondo was produced in January, 1738, but was unpopular. On Feb. 25 Alessandro Severo followed, ar-ranged from his other works, and on April 15 Serse (Xerxes), a new work. The great publie did not desert the composer in his trouble, although it refused to sustain the operatic enterprise of Heidegger. At a concert given "for the benefit of Mr. Handel," March 28, the net receipts were £800. At this period he was engaged to compose music for Vauxhall gardens, and the popularity of his music was such that Tyers, the proprietor, erected to his honor a marble statue by Roubiliac. Heidegger's operatic enterprise closed June 6, not to be renewed; and Handel gave his attention to other studies, preparing several of his organ concertos for publication, and composing the oratorios "Saul" and "Israel in Egypt," which were completed before the close of October. These two immense works were produced in the series of 13 oratorio performances of the succeeding winter and spring, the former Jan. 16, the latter April 4, 1739. For his 13 concerts in Lincoln's Inn fields during the season of 1739-'40 the new works were Dry-den's "St. Caecilia Ode" (not the "Alexander's Feast"), and Milton's "L'Allegro" and "II Penseroso." The season of 1740-'41 comprised 14 performances, the new works being Imeneo (Hymen) and Dcidamia, Italian operas which did not succeed.
This closed his attempts to produce opera. The public would support neither him nor any other person at that time in giving opera in a foreign language. Discouraged at length, he determined to accept a long standing invitation from the lord lieutenant and other notables of Ireland and visit Dublin. For performances there he composed a new work to a text selected from the Bible. This was the " Sacred Oratorio," now known as the "Messiah." He reached Dublin Nov. 18, 1741, and began his first series of six concerts Dec. 23. A sacred series of six began Feb. 0, 1742, after which four supplemental performances were given, the second and fourth of which, April 13 and June 3, were the first public productions of the immortal "Messiah." The greatness of the work was immediately appreciated, and its author enjoyed once more the pleasure of a triumphant success. After a stay of nine months in Ireland, Handel returned to London crowned with success and honor. He seems now to have indulged for a time in a period of rest and inactivity; but in the spring of 1743 he gave a series of twelve oratorio performances (the " Messiah " occupying three, and a new work, " Samson," eight), with great success.
For his season of 1744 the new works were the "Dettingen Te Deum," "Semele," and "Joseph and his Brethren;" for that of 1744-'5, for which he had taken the Haymarket theatre, "Hercules," "Belshazzar," and a revival of " Deborah." But the faction of the nobility, especially a set of titled women, who placed Senesino higher than Handel, succeeded so far in curtailing the list of his subscribers as to render him unable to meet the great expenses he had incurred in producing his works upon the large stage of the Haymarket, and on a scale of then unknown grandeur; and in the spring of 1745, after the 16th of the 24 performances advertised, he was forced to close his doors and again suspend payment. During the spring of 1746 he gave only the eight performances which were due to the subscribers of the year before, with but one new work, the "Occasional Oratorio," which, so far from being a pasticcio, as is often represented, contains in 37 pieces only six from older works. From this time onward Handel abandoned the plan of depending upon the subscriptions of the higher classes, throwing himself upon the generosity and musical taste of the general public.
During the remainder of his life he gave every spring a series of 10 to 13 concerts, and with such success that he paid his debts to the uttermost farthing, and in little more than ten years accumulated £20,-000. The new works of these latter years were: "Judas Maccabaeus," 1747, which he gave six times; "Alexander," 1748; "Joshua," 1748; "Susannah," 1749; "Solomon," 1749; "Theodora," 1750; "Choice of Hercules," 1751; "Jephthah," 1752, the last of this stupendous series of dramatic oratorios. While at work on "Jephthah," which he began Jan. 15, 1751, and ended Aug. 30, his sight began to fail. Three operations were performed upon his eyes without success, and when the work was produced the next year, the grand old man was led into the orchestra blind. Thenceforward his pupil, John Christian Smith, aided him in conducting his oratorios, and acted as his amanuensis in the additions and changes which he still occasionally made in them. This was the case with the translation, with much added matter, of the 1l trionfo del tempo e del disinganno of his youth, into the fine work, " The Triumph of Time and Truth."
During the winter of 1758-'9 his health failed again; but although he felt himself rapidly drawing near the close of his life of intense activity, he opened his usual series of oratorios, March 2, with "Solomon," with "new additions and alterations." "Susannah," also with new additions and alterations, followed. "Samson" was given on the 14th, 16th, and 21st of the same month, and "Judas Maccabaeus" on the 23d and 28th; on March 30 and April 4 and 6, the "Messiah." The performance on the 6th was the last at which the composer was present. On reaching his house he went to bed quite exhausted, and never rose from it. On the 17th anniversary of his first performance of the "Messiah," a little before midnight, he breathed his last, seven weeks alter completing his 74th year. He was buried in Westminster abbey, and his statue is conspicuous among the monuments of the "poets' corner" of that edifice. - During the lifetime of the composer Pope called him the "giant Handel," an epithet the justice of which to this day every musician feels. His greatness was fully acknowledged by his contemporary Bach, and by the greatest that have followed them in the musical profession. Beethoven did not hesitate to call him the greatest composer that ever lived.
Handel possessed an inexhaustible fund of melody, of the richest and noblest character; an almost unparalleled power of musical expression; an unlimited command of all the resources of contrapuntal and fugal science; a power of wielding huge masses of tone with the most perfect ease and felicity. But perhaps his leading characteristic was the grandeur, majesty, and sublimity of his conceptions. He carried the old forms of opera to their highest perfection; infused a new life and power into English ecclesiastical music; was as an instrumental composer equalled by none but Bach, and in one direction surpassed all others who have written. We refer to the dramatic oratorio, of which, if not the creator, he was the perfecter, and reached a height in the " Messiah," "Israel in Egypt," "Samson," and "Judas Mac-cabaeus," whereon he stands alone. The problem he undertook to solve was that of giving such dramatic force and expression to the music in which he clothed his sacred texts, as to be able to dispense with all scenic and stage effects, and this he did with marvellous success.
Making all due allowance for the thinness of his scores in comparison with those written for the modern orchestra, and for his occasional adaptations from other works, still the rapidity with which he produced his greatest compositions has hardly a parallel in musical history : "Atalanta" in 19 days; "Rinaldo" in a fortnight; "Alexander's Feast" in 17 days; con-certante for nine instruments in one day; the "Messiah" in 23 days; and "Samson," begun only eleven days afterward, in 35. - Victor Schoelcher's elaborate biography of Handel appeared in London in 1857, and one by Chry-sander at Leipsic (3 vols., 1858-67). Mrs. Bray's "Handel, his Life, Personal and Professional," was published in London shortly after the great Handel festival at the crystal palace in June, 1857. The centennial anniversary of his death was celebrated in London on a gigantic scale in 1859. Many editions of his works, more or less complete, have been published; all others have been superseded by that of the German Handel society (25 vols., 1858-'66 et seq.). See also Handel und Shakespeare (Leipsic, 1868), and Handel's Oratorientexte (1873), both by Gervinus.