George Frideric Handel was born in Germany in 1685 to a 63 year old father who banned his son from playing music, wishing him instead to become a lawyer.
But after his father’s death, at the age of 12 Handel was free to pursue his musical career openly. A love of opera took him first to Hamburg, then to Italy, and later drew him to London, where he settled in his twenties.
By the time his former employer in Hanover became George I of England, Handel was a celebrated composer, and effectively became ‘composer laureate’ , providing celebration pieces including in later years a set of four coronation anthems for the new King George II. One of these, Zadok the Priest, is part of Wherwell Singers’ repertoire and has since been sung at every coronation.
When the Royal Academy of Music was established in 1719 to promote Italian Opera, Handel was appointed Musical Director. Under his stewardship London became Europe’s capital of opera.
Handel continued to receive royal patronage and his funeral anthem The Ways of Zion do Mourn, to be performed by Wherwell Singers this summer, was written for the funeral of Queen Caroline (George II’s consort) in Westminster Abbey in 1737.
As musical tastes evolved Handel introduced a new genre of theatre music, the oratorio in English based on Bible texts, the most successful of which is Messiah, written in 1742 when Handel was in his 50s.
During the 1750s Handel’s health deteriorated and he went blind. He died in 1759 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.