Reader's Encyclopedia

Handel, George Frideric (1685-1759)

German - born composer; with J. S. Bach, the greatest musical figure of the late Baroque era. While Bach spent his life entirely in Germany, Handel traveled about Europe and, eventually (in 1712), settled permanently in England. Handel 's operas played to the largest audiences in Europe, and he enjoyed much greater recognition during his lifetime than did his brilliant contemporary. Whereas Bach's music is intense and focused, Handel's is more expansive. Both Handel and Bach were among the most important composers to Beethoven.

Handel's works are nearly all in two genres: Italian operas and English oratorios and odes. Notable among his forty - six operas are: Giulio Cesare (1724), Rodelinda (1725), Sosarme (1732), Orlando (1733), Alcina (1735), and Atalanta (1736). Full of beautiful music, these were rarely performed until a continuing revival began at the turn of the 20th century. His oratorios and odes, usually on biblical subjects, are the most outstanding large choral works in the English language. The best of the oratorios are Saul (1739), Israel in Egypt (1739), Messiah, Belshazzar (1744), Hercules (1744), Solomon (1748), and Jephtha (1751). Important secular choral works are: Acis and Galatea (1720), Alexander's Feast (1736; text by Dryden ), Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739; text by Dryden), and L ' Allegro, il Penseroso edited il Moderato (1744; text of the first two acts by Milton ). Handel also wrote church music, chamber music, and harpsichord suites, but the best known of his other works are the twelve concerti grossi for orchestra (1739), twelve organ concerti (1738 - 40), the Water Music (1715 - 17), and the Royal Fireworks Music (1749), the last two being suites for orchestra.

Handel was a master of vocal arrangements; the oratorio reached its height as a form with him. When he died at seventy-four, he was honored with burial in Westminster Abbey.

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