Tuesday, March 9, 2010

George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

He was a native of Germany, but he lived in England for nearly fifty years, even becoming an English citizen. The Queen of England gave him a yearly stipend to keep him in the court as the royal composer. When he died, nearly 3,000 mourners attended his funeral, showing the love and appreciation the people of England had for this man. He was buried with honor in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. Who was he? George Frederic Handel was a man of musical genius, generosity, and faith.

Handel was exceptionally generous. He sent frequent monetary gifts to the widow of one of his first music teachers, for example. This music teacher, Friedrich Zachau, only worked with young Handel for three years, but Handel never forgot the musical training and appreciation for lifelong learning that Zachau gave him.

Handel demonstrated generosity by frequently directing presentations of Messiah for charitable fundraisers for such causes as a foundling hospital and debtors’ prisons. He cared for widows and orphans, perhaps because he never married and had a family of his own. He once bought a home for his chief musical secretary. And he generously shared his music with the people of England and Europe, frequently attending performances to direct the works himself.

But it is Handel’s faith that is most impressive. He desired that his music would make people better, and songs such as the “Hallelujah Chorus,” “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” and “Rejoice, the Lord is King” (in which he supplied the music for Charles Wesley’s words) indicate what Handel believed would make people better: a knowledge of Christ as personal Savior and Lord.

Handel was given the title of “Father of the Oratorio.” His most well-known oratorio is Messiah, which uses several different Biblical texts to relate the birth, passion, and resurrection of Christ. (An oratorio, by the way, is a composition, usually of a religious nature, for choruses and soloists, sung without costuming, scenery, or staging.) The musical masterpiece Messiah was written in less than a month. 260 pages of text and music in twenty-four days! That is true musical genius.

His musical talents are evident in over forty operas, numerous oratorios, church music, choral music, orchestra and chamber pieces, keyboard music, and some secular vocal works. One of his most unique works is the Water Music Suite, which was composed to ease King George I’s anger at Handel for leaving Germany to work in England. When King George was crowned King of England, barges with the royal court floated through London on the Thames to introduce the citizens to their new monarch. Handel composed the Water Music Suite especially for an outdoor performance, particularly for the echoing effects of wide open spaces on the river. Furthermore, Handel conducted the orchestra from a barge as if floated along with the royal court’s procession through London.

You can learn more about the “Father of the Oratorio,” this talented man of generosity and faith, by reading Handel at the Court of Kings, by Opal Wheeler. And you can hear his genius by listening to any of his works – including Water Music Suite, Music for the Royal Fireworks, Messiah, or his Harpsichord Suites.