Posted by: ritagone | December 23, 2015




handels-messiah         Having recently sung parts of George Frideric Handel’s “The Messiah” oratorio as a choir member both at church (“The Hallelujah Chorus”) and at the Disney Hall for our traditional participation in the Messiah Sing-along, I decided to do a little research into Handel’s personal life. (I have Input as my #1 StrengthsFinder trait, so I like to accumulate information.)

Handel was born in Germany in 1685, the same year as Bach and Scarlatti, both amazing classical composers. His father was 63 when he was born, and he was indifferent or even a bit hostile to his son’s interest in music, believing that this would not be a realistic source of income. (He wasn’t wrong.) He wouldn’t let his young son have an instrument to play. His mother was supportive, however, and encouraged him to develop his musical talent. With her cooperation, Handel took to practicing on the sly.

When he was seven years old, he had the opportunity to play the organ for the duke’s court in Weissenfels. At the court he met composer and organist Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, who, impressed with Handel’s potential, invited him to become his pupil. Under Zachow, Handel mastered composing for the organ, the oboe and the violin alike by the time he was 10 years old. (By the time I was ten years old, I could throw a mean fast ball and spell well.)

His musical career was not stellar for many years, and in 1727 he moved to London and became a British citizen. He continued to write music, mainly in the form of operas and oratorios, but met with minimum success.

But here’s the interesting part about Handel: over the course of his musical career, Handel, exhausted by stress (and most of us can relate to that malady right about now, can’t we?), endured a number of potentially debilitating problems with his physical health. He is also believed to have suffered continuously from anxiety and depression. In the spring of 1737, at the age of 52, Handel had a stroke that impaired the movement of his right hand. His fans worried that he would never compose again. But after only six weeks of recuperation, he was fully recovered, and not only returned to composing but made a comeback at playing the organ as well. Six years later, Handel suffered a second springtime stroke. Again, he recovered. By 1750, he had entirely lost the sight in his left eye. In 1752 Handel lost sight in his other eye and was rendered completely blind. He never married, was bankrupted as a result of his choice of career, and remained actively involved in productions of his works until his dying day.   Despite all the adversities he encountered, he remained virtually undeterred in his determination to keep making music.

On April 14, 1759, George Frideric Handel died in bed at his rented house in the Mayfair district of London. He was 74 years old. Even in death he was generous: his will divided his assets among his servants and several charities, including the famous Foundling Hospital in London. He even donated the money to pay for his own funeral so that none of his loved ones would bear that financial burden. He was buried in Westminster Abbey a week after he died, and he soon took on legendary status, proving that earning power is definitely not the be all and end all of career choice.

In 1741 he composed what is undoubtedly his most famous oratorio, The Messiah, still performed mainly at Christmas-time all over the world. It was first performed in Dublin, Ireland, at the New Music Hall with 26 boys and five men from the combined choirs of St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals participating. Handel secured a balance between soloists and chorus which he never surpassed in any of his other works.

Christmas is almost upon us for 2015. May I recommend, in honor of this esteemed composer and musician, that you at least experience one amazing classical music endeavor before year end? Listen to a recording of The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.” Just close your eyes and listen. Let the absolute beauty and grandeur of this worship music feed your soul and wrap around your heart.

It’s the perfect gift to give yourself this Christmas.



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