Wednesday, April 1, 2009

This Month in History (April 1759): Handel is dead

This month the world commemorates the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death.

Born in Halle, Germany, George Frideric Handel enjoyed a successful career in Italy and eventually spent most of his creative life in London. For eight years before he died, Handel contended with a steady deterioration in his eyesight which eventually led to blindness.

Among his many masterpieces are the oratorios the Messiah, Saul, Israel in Egypt, Samson, Judas Maccabaeus and Solomon, operas such as Rinaldo and Xerxes, the Concerto Grossi (Opus 3 and Opus 6), the “Water Music” and the “Music for the Royal Fireworks”.

His anthem “Zadok the Priest” (composed for the coronation of King George II in 1727) has since been performed at every coronation of a British monarch.

His most famous work, and one of the most revered compositions of English sacred music, the Messiah, was written in a mind-boggling surge of creativity across a mere 24 days!

Among the earliest known recordings of classical music (on Edison's phonograph) are excerpts of Handel’s “Israel in Egypt”.

Mozart once said "Handel understands effect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunder bolt.”

Another ardent admirer, Beethoven is known to have remarked of Handel: "Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means." And on another occasion, he remarked “I would bare my head and kneel at his grave."

But certainly the best tribute to Handel came from his greatest contemporary, Johann Sebastian Bach who said: "Handel "is the only person I would wish to see before I die, and the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach".

1 comment:

  1. I was always been familiar with Beethoven's and Mozart’s tributes, but the one from Bach really stumps me! Bach rarely spoke of other composers with much disdain or praise...and to hear his remark on Handel is a stupendous reminder of the greatness of Handel. Beethoven also said of him, 'To him alone will I bend my knee!'. With 2 of the big Bs and Mozart's remark, we can have no doubts about his place in music.

    His counterpoint which is more in the style of 'accompaniment' as against the very strict and complex style of Bach make his music very universal in its appeal. Beethoven is said to have studied in depth the greatest masters of counterpoint – in the form of Bachian, Handelian and Palestrinian music, before he began work on his greatest expression - the Missa Solemnis!

    From the very, very little I've heard of Handel's music, it is delightful, deep, beautiful, intense, captivating, sublime, simple, complex all at once. His melodic wealth and depth of treatment with a very unpretentious use of technique makes his music truly for everyone.