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Composer Handel goes center stage for 250th anniversary

A celebrated star and devout Catholic, an irate impresario and sensitive musician, a world traveler and lone wolf: Georg Fridrich Handel was a man full of paradoxes, which are also reflected in his music.

Perhaps that is one reason why landmark works like “Halleluja” from “Messiah” and the fanfare from “Water Music” have made their way into the canon. They’re recognizable to any non-musician — and even available as cell phone ring tones.

Born in 1685 in the German city of Halle — the same year as JS Bach — Handel is considered one of the first truly European composers. As a young man, he toured Italy extensively, which was then the heart of the European music scene and, at the age of 27, he permanently settled in London, where he would spend the rest of his life.

Money, fame, success

Handel served as the musical representative of the British state, as the nobility and the church were the major patrons of the arts during the 17th and 18th centuries.

He was known for his generosity and social engagement, and for being a shrewd businessman. Unlike many of his fellow musicians, Handel was a wealthy man, who owned a large art collection, including works by Rembrandt.

Unlike many of history’s other great composers, whose fame was only posthumous, Handel enjoyed recognition during his lifetime. As early as 1738, the then 53-year-old was honored with a life-size statue in London’s Vauxhall Gardens, one of the city’s most popular parks.

Despite his celebrity status and public presence, not much is known about Handel’s private life. His opinions and feelings didn’t even come through in his personal correspondence, though they did all the more so in his music.

Fans clubs across the Channel

Handel’s last public appearance was a performance of “Messiah” on April 6, 1759. He died eight days later on April 14.

The naturalized Briton was buried with great ceremony in Westminster Abbey, an honor otherwise reserved for England’s royalty.

But the Handel cult wasn’t restricted to England alone. In 1858, the German Handel Society was founded, based on a similar group in London, with the aim of publishing the composer’s complete works.

A second German Handel organization was founded in Goettingen in the 1920s when art historian Oskar Hagen arranged a performance of Handel’s opera “Rodelinda.” That was the beginning of the Goettingen Handel Festival, one of three festivals in Germany dedicated to the émigré composer.

Handel rediscovered

After the Second World War, Handel’s music experienced a renaissance on the world’s most prestigious stages. Singers Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas and Marilyn Horne were particularly active in reviving the composer’s operas, cantatas and oratorios.

Handel’s greatest music legacy was his development of the oratorio, a concert work incorporating orchestra, choir and soloists. He wrote 16 oratorios based on the Old Testament of the Bible. “Messiah,” “Joshua” and “Jeptha” are among Handel’s most famous.

Click on the link below to listen to or download excerpts from Part Three of “Joshua,” performed by the Koelner Kammerchor and Collegium Cartusianum, under the direction of Peter Neumann.

Author: Dieter David Scholz / Kate Bowen

April 14, 2009 - Posted by | 1

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