November 25 – G. F. Handel

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

G.F. Handel, faithful servant

George Frederick Handel  (1685-1759)

Born in Halle, Germany on 23rd February 1685 (the same year as J. S. Bach), Handel’s surname was originally Händel. His Christian names had a variety of spellings, but the English forms George Frederick eventually predominated. Handel first studied law, but following the death of his father he concentrated on music. He soon became a brilliant performer on violin and keyboard instruments. At the age of 25 he was appointed court conductor at Hanover, having already composed four operas.

After visits to England he settled there permanently in 1712 and became a British subject in 1726. Queen Anne gave him a permanent salary of £200 per year, which was raised to £600 by King George II.

Between 1720 and 1730 Handel wrote 15 operas but several opera houses founded between 1719 and 1734 ran into financial trouble, leaving him in considerable debt.

From 1737 his major choral works were limited to oratorios, the most famous being Messiah, first performed in Dublin in 1742. In recent times Messiah has usually been shortened by the omission of several items, but the original was quite long and was composed in the remarkably short time of less than four weeks. It is undoubtedly the most popular of all oratorios, being performed by many choirs across the world each year. It appeals both to regular concert-goers and to people who attend concerts only rarely.

Handel’s compositions include 32 oratorios, 46 operas, 28 solo-cantatas, 72 cantatas of other kinds as well as a great number of orchestral works, solo works for various instruments, anthems and songs. Of his orchestral works the most famous is probably the Water Music, composed about 1715 for a royal “progress” on the Thames.

In 1737 Handel had a stroke, which left him partially paralysed, and by 1752 he was completely blind. Despite these disabilities he continued composing, with the help of a copyist, and he even directed some performances of his oratorios. His last performance of Messiah was on 6th April 1759, only eight days before his death.

Many people say they cannot read the Scripture passages used in Messiah without hearing Handel’s music in their heads. This applies particularly to passages from Isaiah (e.g. “He shall feed his flock”, Is.40:11) and Revelation (e.g. “Worthy is the Lamb”, Rev.5: 12-13).

Handel composed only three hymn-tunes but the tune MACCABAEUS, sung in many languages to the Easter hymn “Thine be the glory”, was adapted from one of his oratorios.

Rev D’Arcy Wood