Thursday, 9 April 2015

H is for Handel

Georg Friedrich Handel was a Baroque composer born in 1685 in a small community in Germany.  His father had intended him to study civil law and was alarmed when young Georg showed an interest in music instead.  His talent on the organ persuaded his father to allow music lessons through their church.  When he reached adulthood Georg respected his father's wishes and went into law, but was unsatisfied.

In 1702 he accepted a job with the Hamburg Opera company, and there he began composing his own work.  Later he traveled to Italy, where he was encouraged to write and perform sacred music.  Audiences were fascinated by his musical style, and quickly became Master Musician for George of Hanover, who would later become George I King of England.

He followed his patron to England and settled there in 1712, eventually becoming a naturalized citizen.  There followed an intense spurt of creativity, which included choral works, cantatas, and operas.  He formed his own company but it was devastated during a financial disaster in 1720.  Then he joined the Royal Academy of Music where he focused mainly on writing opera.  In 1727 Handel was commissioned to write a suite for the coronation of George II; one of the pieces, "Zadok the Priest", has been performed at every British royal coronation since.

The Royal Academy ceased to function in 1729 but Handel was ready and became joint manager of the Queen's Theatre in London.  He traveled to Italy and around Europe to attract more singers to perform in his operas.  Refusing to retire when his contract was up, he founded another opera company and remained successful.  What might have been a stroke in 1737 disabled his right hand, causing rumours that he might never be able to perform again.  However he defied expectations and recovered.

From here he moved to works known as oratorios, which were highly popular - including the 1741 masterpiece "Messiah".  He was seriously injured in a carriage accident in 1750 while on the way home from a journey in Europe.  This proved to be a terrible blow as his health markedly declined afterwards, and he died in London in 1758.

Here is a recording of "Zadok the Priest". I've performed this in concert several times, it's short but a very challenging piece to sing.  The lyrics are: "Zadok the Priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king; And all the people rejoiced, rejoiced and said: God save the King, long live the King, God save the King; May the king live forever, hallelujah, Amen!"

Zadok the Priest - Choir of Westminster Abbey

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