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George Frederick Handel - His Life and Works

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George Frederick Handel - His Life and Works

Musical Composer George Frederick Handel is remembered by many as the first great of the entrepreneurial composers. Throughout his life, Handel drew international praise for his ability to captivate his audiences though his mastery of harmony. Displaying his skill at a young age, word quickly spread about the young Saxon (referring to her German heritage), "an excellent player on the harpsichord and composer of music who displayed his ability in playing the organ in the church of St. John to the amazement of everyone"(Dent: 8). At the age of twenty, Handel was compared to Orpheus (the legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth). "Orpheus," says Cardinal Phmphili, "could move rocks and trees, but could not make them sing; therefore thou are greater than Orpheus, for thou compellest my aged Muse to song" (Dent: 12). A compliment of this degree was very interesting on three levels: not only did it reflect Handel's great talent, but given the Catholic Church's negative perception of those who engaged themselves in the theater, as Handel did, spoke to his strong moral character. Finally, comparing Handel to a mythic character, further perpetuated myths attributed to his own life. "The known facts about his life there are singularly few, and his biographers have often had to draw copiously their imagination" (Dent: 10). Handel had the uncanny ability to make his way. His was a life of great success, earned reputation, and continuous productivity. Although he endured setbacks, he overcame them; successfully reinventing himself and the framework of the genre. It was through his reinvention that he surpassed all others and brought the Baroque era to its zenith.

Born in Halle, Germany February 23, 1685 to a middle class family of physicians, George Frederick Handel was well raised and received a good education. At an early age, Handel quickly displayed strong inclinations towards music. Acknowledging his sons visible interest in music, his father forbid him from pursuing it any further seeking to cater to his sons best interests. "Music," he said, "was an elegant art and a fine amusement; yet, if considered an occupation, it had little dignity, as having for its subject nothing better than mere pleasure and entertainment" (Mainwaring: 10). Handel senior regarded music as, "a pastime that showed weakness of character. He wanted his son to have a financially secure career as a lawyer" (ArtsAlive.ca). Handel however, did not perceive music in the same light as his father continuing to develop his talents in secrecy. Handel is believed to have learned how to play the clavichord, "without any guidance, finding out everything for himself, merely by permitting his little fingers to wander over the keyboard, he produced harmonic combinations" (Schcelcher: 4).

In 1697, Handel's father passed away. Seeking to fulfill his deceased father's wishes, Handel enrolled in the University of Halle to study civic law, but music remained his true passion. While enrolled at Halle, the composer Telemann, four years his senior, soon realized Handel's talent speaking of him as being already a musician of importance on campus. At the age of seventeen, Handel was appointed organist at a Calvinist Cathedral, and prepared to study the works of other composers and train his sense of style through imitating their writing (Dent: 5). Three years later, in 1703 he moved to Hamburg, the center of German Opera, (Artsalive.ca) where he met another gifted young man, Johann Mattheson, who recalled Handel as a, "very simple and provincial young musician, a notable organist, and master of such devices of counterpoint and fugue, but a dull composer turning out endless aria and cantatas with no sense of the fashionable Italian taste" (Dent: 7). Handel took quickly to the theater. In only a year, it became clear, from the amount of responsibility Handel had taken on with in the theater he worked (In that year he composed his first opera Almira, soon following by his second composition Nero), as well as contempt his "superiors" held towards him, that he had surpassed them in ability.

In 1707, Handel moved to Italy in hopes to gain a greater understanding of the Italian dramatic opera, "the music of the great world" (Dent: 16). These years would be the most formative period of Handel's personality as a composer. "Handel came to Italy as a German; he left Italy an Italian as far as his music was concerned, and, despite all the other influences, Italian was the foundation of his musical language until the end of his life. . . Italy introduced him to an entirely different atmosphere—to live a life of dignity and serenity in which a classical culture, both literacy and artistic, was the matured fruit of wealth, leisure, and good breeding. It was

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