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Timeline 027: George Frideric Handel

The Baroque era (1600 to 1750) was a time of blending cultures as the European continent was becoming smaller and more connected. A mixture of influences from Italy, France, England and Germany merged into a cosmopolitan style of music. The champion of this new style was the composer George Frideric Handel.

Handel’s father was a well-known barber surgeon in Halle, Germany and was already in his 60’s when Handel was born. Handel’s musical talents became evident early but his father wanted Handel to pursue law instead of music.

Handel practiced his keyboard skills in secret, until he was discovered one day by the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. The duke then convinced Handel’s father to allow the young boy to study music and pursue his passion. It became a pattern of Handel’s life and career to make social connections with important people eventually taking him all across Europe. 

As a young man, Handel journeyed to Hamburg where he befriended the composers Telemann and Johann Mattheson. Mattheson would become a great influence on the young composer’s music in regards to texture and harmony.

Also in Hamburg, Handel met Prince Ferdinando de Medici, son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who invited Handel to Italy. It was in Italy that Handel would discover the music of Alessandro Scarlatti and his love of opera and oratorio. He would also befriend Arcangelo Corelli and have a famous keyboard contest with Alessandro’s son, Domenico Scarlatti which led to a lifelong friendship.

During a trip to Venice, Handel met Prince Ernst August of Hanover, the brother of the future King of England, George I.

The prince hired Handel who moved to England and visited London for the first time. From that point forward, London would become Handel’s city of choice. He became a naturalized British subject in 1727. It was in England that Handel would write his most famous operas and oratorios including The Messiah.

The influence of his travels and relationships with other composers is clear in all of Handel’s music. His eclectic style transcended national barriers and his works were performed throughout Europe. His influence is evident in composers of his own generation and especially those who followed him. Mozart declared that Handel understood drama better than anyone else and Beethoven, himself, called Handel the greatest composer of all time.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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