Get a Handle on Handel: Five Facts about George Frideric Handel

Friday 3 August 2018

Considered to be one of the leading Baroque composers of his time, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) is celebrated for his operas, oratorios and chamber music. He adopted the nickname ‘The Great Bear’ due to his size and nature. He never married in his lifetime, and he died a very wealthy man aged 74. This blog offers five facts about this private man, his music and his legacy.

1. He began as a secret musician
Although he displayed musical talent from a young age, Handel’s father was unhappy with his love for music. Like him, his father wanted Handel to pursue a career in law. It has been reported that Handel’s mother stored a clavichord upstairs in the attic so that he could play when his father wasn’t around.

2. Handel the Diva and Handel the Kind
Being as well known in his time as he is now, Handel was largely known for his gentle, kind and giving nature. In 1750 he arranged a performance of Messiah at the Foundling Hospital (England’s first children’s charity – now Coram). This became an annual event and Handel was made a governor of the hospital. What’s more is that Handel also signed over the rights to Messiah to the hospital for after he died.

Handel was also reported to have a bit of a temper at times. He spent a lot of years perfecting his craft, and his harsh ways often rubbed musicians up the wrong way. This came to a head when he told soprano Francesca Cuzzoni that if she didn’t sing the arias properly in his opera Ottone then he would throw her out of the window!

3. Perks of the Job
Being at the forefront of the Baroque movement in Europe in the 17th Century, Handel was often granted permission to cast his operas and his other productions. This didn’t always work out in Handel’s favour, however, when in a production of Bonocini’s opera Astianette, Handel’s two chosen leading ladies had a physical fight on stage. Sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni had to be dragged off of the stage after they started ripping each other’s costumes off!

4. Nothing to See Here
Whilst composing his final oratorio Jeptha, Handel was experiencing health issues which was quickly taking away his eyesight. This became a heartbreaking turn of events for the composer, and he ended up penning on the score ‘Reached here on 13 February 1751, unable to go on owing to weakening of the sight of my left eye’. Although his sight issues made this task difficult, the score for Jeptha is considered to be one Handel’s most sublime.

5. A Huge Send Off
After Handel’s passing in 1759, his funeral was attended by over 3000 people. The event became a full state affair, and he was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey. There is a monument of Handel composing his most famous work – Messiah above his grave. There is also a permanent exhibition to Handel at the London Foundling Centre.

This autumn ETO tours nationwide with Handel’s Radamisto. Discover more: whatson.englishtouringopera.org.uk

© Alex Burns 2018
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