The man who gave us the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’, ‘Zadok the Priest’ and the Water Music also wrote concertos, trio sonatas, the Music for the Royal Fireworks and more than two dozen operas. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was born a German (well, Saxon) and died an Englishman. A native of Halle, he travelled widely – Hamburg, Italy, Hanover, Düsseldorf, London – before settling in England towards the end of 1712. Handel’s travels in Italy were especially important as it was the ‘Italian style’ above all that he assimilated and perfected (even the German cities where he spent his career-building years were centres of Italian musical culture). Handel’s principal activity in London was as a composer of Italian opera. Opera was a private business in the English capital (unlike in many European centres where it was a court activity) and was underwritten by investors as well as by the composer himself. Success with the public was therefore crucial to its on-going viability. Among Handel’s many operas are Rinaldo (1711), Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724), Alcina (1735) and Serse (1738). It was only when Londoners tired of Italian opera that Handel focused on oratorios in English. Consequently, most of his best-known oratorios date from the last decades of his life: Israel in Egypt (1739), Messiah (1742) and Judas Maccabaeus (1747). Handel’s eyesight failed in his later years and he was blind from about 1753. He was plagued by further illnesses over the next few years and died at the age of 74. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
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