Handel entered Halle University in 1702 and within a month was
engaged as the probationary organist at the Calvinist cathedral in
Halle. He enjoyed a year of free lodgings before moving on to
Hamburg, the only German city, excluding the courts, with an opera
house. He was employed as a violinist at the opera house, then
harpsichordist, and within three years his first two operas were
staged. In 1706 he met the heir to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who
invited him to Florence - the start of three formative and
creative years in Italy. Here he met many leading composers,
including Corelli, the Scarlattis, and Vivaldi, all of whose
influences can be heard m his music. He was inspired to write
operas, notably Agrippina which was performed 27 times, as
well as oratorios and more than 150 cantatas. He created quite a
name for himself, particularly in Venice, before travelling to
Innsbruck to meet the Governor of the Tyrol. From there he
journeyed to Hanover to work as the Kappellmeister to the Elector,
the man destined to accede to the English throne.
In 1710 Handel visited London to produce his opera
Rinaldo, and was inspired by its success to settle there permanently.
Queen Anne awarded him a pension of 200L per annum, but Handel's
position became difficult when she died and the Elector of
Hanover, from whom he had played truant, became King of England.
One story relates that a reconciliation was effected when King
George made a sailing excursion on the Thames: a second barge
carrying 50 musicians under Handel's direction shadowed the royal
boat, performing the now famous Water music. The King was so
captivated that he requested three renditions of the hour-long
concert, forgiving the composer, and raising his pension to
Consisting of three suites divided into 20 short movements, the
Water music is scored for trumpets, horns, oboes, bassoons,
recorders, flutes, and strings. It notably displays Handel's gifts for orchestration, the sound of
trumpets and horns across water being especially effective.
From 1718 to 1720 Handel served as music director to the Duke
of Chandos, and during this period he wrote the Chandos anthems
and the dramatic oratorio Acis and Galatea. He generally
found patrons easily; in the winter of 1718—19 the nobility
combined forces to create and fund the Royal Academy of Music to
promote Italian opera in London, with Handel as musical director.
For eight years the focus for operatic activity in Europe was
London, and Handel enjoyed many triumphs, including Giulio
Cesare in 1724. He was appointed composer to the Royal Chapel,
moved to a house in Grosvenor Square, and sought English
The Academy faltered as a result of the costs of its opera
productions, but Handel's career seemed blessed. A modest first
performance of his Esther, the first oratorio to be heard
in London, took place at a tavern in the Strand during the winter
of 1732. It was a triumph, and at Princess Anne's request was
transferred to the King's Theatre. Handel expanded it, and the six
performances were a great success.
In 1740 Handel composed his 12 Concerti grossi, Opus 6,
for strings and optional woodwind, which with Bach's
represent the peak of
instrumental writing during the Baroque. The next year he went to
Dublin, where he began a series of "musical entertainments" that
were an instant success. On 13 April 1742 he premiered his
oratorio the Messiah to an enraptured Dublin audience. The
Messiah was, incredibly, written in just one month in 1741.
Based on texts from the Bible, it falls into three parts: the
anticipation of the Messiah and Christ's birth; Christ's Passion;
and Christ as the Redeemer. Handel altered the work's
orchestration to suit the demands of various performances, and
during his lifetime there was no one definitive edition. Of the
famous "Hallelujah Chorus", Handel was moved to say, "I thought I
saw all Heaven before me, and the great God himself."
Handel took the work back to England the following year, where
it was initially less well received but gradually found favour. At Covent Garden he initiated a series of concerts and
in 1744 staged the oratorios Belshazzar and Hercules.
For the 1744-5 season he returned to the King's Theatre but
his earlier success was not repeated and the series closed early.
Handel continued composing unabated and in 1746 produced the
hugely popular oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. The king
subsequently commissioned music to accompany a spectacular
fireworks display to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Even
the rehearsal, in London's Vauxhall Gardens, caused an impromptu
audience of 12,000 to stop traffic for three hours.
After the Fireworks music Handel wrote relatively
little. He was unsuccessfully operated on for eye cataracts, which
left him blind for the last seven years of his life. He died in
London at the age of 74 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.