George Friedrich Handel was one of the most accomplished Baroque composers in his time. Born in Halle, Germany in 1685, he was the son of a wealthy barber who wanted his son to become a lawyer. However, he displayed such musical aptitude with the harpsichord, organ, oboe, counterpoint and fugue, he became an assistant with Friedrich Zachav, organist of the cathedral of Halle. However, Handel entered the University of Halle, but quickly withdrew, and left for the University of Hamburg, to study music. In 1706, Handel journeyed to Italy to further enhance his music.
While there, he was greatly influenced by Alessandro Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli. Then in 1710, Handel was appointed “Kapellmeister,” or Musical Director, to the Elector of Hanover, and received a commission to write an opera for London. Italian opera was all the rage in London, and Handels soon became a quick success. However, Handel greatly longed for being in England, and returned in 1712. London provided a generous audience for Handel, and from 1712 to 1741 he produced thirty-six operas. In 1713, Te Deum and a Jubilate was performed by Handel at St. Pauls Cathedral, London, to celebrate the Peace of Utrecht.
Queen Anne also granted Handel a handsome lifetime pension of two hundred pounds per year. Including Water Music, for George I, which was first performed in 1715 on the Thames at London. While most of Handels operas were based on either historical, mythological, or legendary subjects, Serse, was one of his rare endeavors into comedy. Handels operas were all sung in Italian, and adhere to the musical conventions of the day. There is little use of choruses or large ensembles, since one of the main objectives of this genre, called opera seria, is the emonstration of vocal ability by individual singers.
Also, for 18th century audiences, the main attraction in Handels operas lay in the incredible feats of the castrati, male singers whose soprano voices had been surgically preserved from childhood. These artists combined the soprano voices of women and the lung power of men, producing singers whose vocal feats became legendary. In England, Handel tried to start opera companies on a number of occasions, but these attempts to become a music executive failed miserably. On account the gradual decline in popularity of Italian opera in England, Handel turned to riting oratorios, which became the preferred taste.
These works, sung in English, take their texts from the Bible. Handels most famous oratorio, his best-known work in any genre, is Messiah, written in 1742. In addition to operas and oratorios, he wrote passions, secular choral pieces, anthems, cantatas, chamber sonatas, harpsichord suites, concerti, and orchestral pieces. Beyond composition, Handel was the first the real businessman in the world of music. He had a hand in organizing opera companies, obtaining financial support, and finding singers.
He was also in constant demand at parties where he entertained guests with his lusty personality and exceptional abilities the keyboard. Of all composers, Handel was probably the most esteemed and appreciated in his own time. He rose to a position of the highest eminence in the musical world. His oratorios were the toast of the country, and of the continent as well. Toward the end of his life, Handel was plagued by ill health. From 1753, he was totally blind, though this did not stop his activities altogether. He died in 1759, and was buried with full state honors in Westminster Abbey.