George Frederick Handel was one of the world’s greatest composers of vocal music. He developed the oratorio to its highest form. This is a musical drama performed without scenery, costume or action. His most famous oratorio, The Messiah, is regarded as one of the greatest musical masterpieces of all time. All of his oratorios were marked by grandeur in their impressive and lofty melodies.
Born in Halle, Germany in 1685, Handel showed an extraordinary musical talent at an early age. For a brief time he studied with the organist at the local cathedral. His father wanted him to become a lawyer and after his father’s death he did study law at the University of Nalle. This did not last long and Handel went to Hamburg where he concentrated on his music. His first opera, Almire, was produced in 1705. He then traveled to Italy where he studied the style of Italian operatic composition, which is present in all of his subsequent operas. While in Italy he wrote two operas, two oratorios and a serenata.
He became music director at the court of the Elector of Hanover, Germany in 1710. He obtained leave to visit England, where he produced the opera Rinaldo. When the Elector became Goerge 1 of England, Handel decided to remain in the country and became a British subject in 1727.
He soon became a celebrity as a composer of Italian opera, which was popular with the British public. He composed numerous operas from 1712 to 1741. He also wrote in other forms with oratorios, musical pieces for the harpsichord and a series of pieces for the string orchestra. He suffered a stroke in 1737, and when he recovered he devoted himself to composing oratorios only.
Handle produced some of his finest oratorios from 1739 to 1751. These include Saul, Belshazzar, Semele, and Judas Maccabaeus. The King and the entire audience rose in homage during the Hallelujah chorus of the Messiah and this gesture has become traditional whenever it is performed.
He died in London, England on April 14, 1759.