10 Things you didn't know about Handel

Eva Mackevic 

George Frideric Handel is considered to be one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era. He is famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. We look at some of the most interesting facts about this fascinating man’s life. 

Image via allmusic.com

Born in 1685 in Halle, Germany, Handel was a tall, robust man, who enjoyed good food, wine and entertainment. He was nicknamed "The Great Bear" because of his size, nature and way of walking. He never married and was known to be a very private person. He died a wealthy man in 1759, aged 74. 


1. Papa don't preach 

Image via behance.net 

Handel's father, Georg Händel, didn't approve of his son's love of music and wanted him to be a lawyer. It's possible that the only reason he started learning the clavichord was that his mother had smuggled a small keyboard into the attic of their house. As a boy, he would play the instrument in secrecy, when his father wasn't around.


2. Citizen Handel   

English audiences took to Handel's 1711 opera Rinaldo, and several years later he moved to England permanently, becoming a naturalised British subject in 1727. He impressed King George early on with the Water Music of 1716, written as entertainment for a royal boat outing. Handel was fond of London and London remains fond of him until this day: though he was German-born and educated, the Brits like to claim Handel for their own. 


3. Diva tantrums  

Image via minjaszugik

So successful was Handel in London that he was allowed to pick his own leading soloists from all over Europe. However, this perk led to a vicious fight between sopranos Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni, two rival divas of the day, who ended up having a fight on stage during a performance of Bononcini's Astianatte. They both had to be dragged off stage to stop them from ripping up each other's costumes.


4. A man not to be messed with   

Francesca Cuzzoni. Image via wikiwand.com

Though a gentle man with a great sense of humour, Handel had quite a short fuse. When the notoriously capricious soprano Francesca Cuzzoni refused to sing the aria “Falsa immagine” from Handel’s Ottone during rehearsal, Handel grabbed her by the waist and swore he would throw her out the window if she didn't follow his orders.   


5. Health issues  

Image via baladoquebec

In 1737, at the age 52, Handel suffered a stroke, which caused both temporary paralysis in his right arm (he was right-handed) and some loss of his mental capabilities, preventing him from performing.

Nobody expected Handel to ever perform again, so his rather quick recovery was considered a miracle. To recover faster, Handel had travelled to Aachen, a spa in Germany. During the six weeks he was there, he diligently took long hot baths, and ended up playing the organ for a surprised audience. 


6. The birth of a masterpiece  

Messiah, Handel’s most famous work, came about at a very bleak time for the composer. He’d suffered a stroke and was complaining of blurred vision at the time. He was also falling in and out of favor with royalty which meant his financial situation was unstable.

Librettist Charles Jennens 

Because he wasn't a good businessman he also lost a fortune in the opera business and, depressed and in debt, gave it up in 1740. And then he received a libretto for an oratorio. It was sent by a prominent English librettist Charles Jennens and it turned out to be a godsend for Handel.

So inspired was he by this work, that he wrote the music for it in three or four weeks between August and September 1741, working tirelessly day and night. It became his most beloved and inspired work. 


7. Battle with Bononcini  

Giovanni Bononcini. Image via theaccompanimentcompany

Handel’s biggest musical rival during his time in London was Italian composer Giovanni Bononcini. Though we now take Handel’s superiority for granted, both were held in high esteem by the London public to the point where they divided the public: the Whig party favoured Handel, while the Tories preferred Bononcini. 

Their competition inspired the epigram by John Byrom that made the phrase "Tweedledum and Tweedledee” famous.


8. A heart of gold  

Image via accentblogs

In 1750 Handel arranged a performance of Messiah to benefit the Foundling Hospital—UK’s first children’s charity which continues today as Coram.

The performance was a great success and became an annual tradition that continued throughout his life. In recognition of his patronage, Handel was made a governor of the Hospital the day after his first concert. He assigned the rights of Messiah to the institution upon his death. 

His involvement with the Foundling Hospital is today commemorated with a permanent exhibition in London's Foundling Museum.  


9. The grand funeral 

Image via voxultra 

Handel’s funeral was given full state honours and was attended by 3,000 people—a true testament to people’s appreciation for his music. He was buried in Westminster Abbey and his monument shows him composing his biggest hit, Messiah.


10. The place he called home  

Image via handelhendrix

You can visit Handel’s home at 25 Brook Street, which has been lovingly restored to look exactly how he would've kept when he lived there from 1723 until his death in 1759. Handel died in this house, nearly blind after cataracts and a mishandled eye operation in 1751.

Jimi Hendrix moved in next door some 230 years later and was delighted to learn of the connection! 


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