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  • Graham Abbott

Handel's English World, Part 6: Final Testaments

How ironic that Handel, the greatest opera composer of the early 18th century, should have so decisively abandoned the artform which had been his bread and butter since his teens. And how amazing that now, in 1748, he could safely assume that he had done the impossible and established an entirely new form of entertainment in London's artistic world: English oratorio.


63 was a very good age in early 18th century London. Handel could, at such an age, have reasonably assumed his right to start to slow down a bit, especially given the pace of decades of composing and performing, but there was a lot more life - and music - in the old boy yet.


The summer of 1748 saw Handel continue his practice of composing two new, contrasting oratorios for his next season, which would be performed in the following season with revivals of older works. On 5 May he started work on Solomon, which was finished five and a half weeks later on 13 June. After a month's break he began work on Susanna on 11 July, which he finished on 24 August.


The coupling of Solomon and Susanna is instructive. Handel's practice from the late 1730s was to write oratorios in contrasting pairs; works which would often inhabit different musical or dramatic worlds. The experiment of 1738 asked: was oratorio static opera (Saul) or dramatic anthem (Israel in Egypt)? In 1741 the question seemed to be: was oratorio a meditation (Messiah) or was it drama (Samson)?


In 1743 the contrast was sacred and secular (Semele and Joseph and his Brethren), a theme Handel explored the following year but on a grander scale with Hercules and Belshazzar. 1746 and 1747 saw Handel diverted from this practice with the production of the four military oratorios inspired by the political situation surrounding the Jacobite rebellion. The Occasional Oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus, Joshua and Alexander Balus have their differences, but are in other ways very similar in tone.


Now, in 1748, with the political situation settled and the House of Hanover firmly established as Britain's ruling dynasty, the time had come for Handel's oratorios to reflect this environment in the new oratorios for his next season.


Solomon is one of Handel's most stupendous creations. (I conducted it in Melbourne in 1997. I'm not ashamed to say that I'm desperate to do it again.) The identity of the librettist is not known but the text is structured rather differently to those of most of Handel's other oratorios. Like Italian operas, Handel's English oratorios usually told a single story over the course of three acts (or "parts"), with the third act rather shorter than the other two. In Solomon, though, each act presents a different story from the Old Testament accounts of the third king of Israel, and the third act is pretty much the same length as the others. Thus we have in effect a series of tableaux, on which Handel lavished extraordinary effort. From massive ceremonial double choruses to intimate love scenes, from nature music to music describing the power of music itself, Handel's score is brilliant and dazzling.


The final chorus of the first act, accompanying Solomon and his new Egyptian queen to bed on their wedding night, is one of the most beautiful things Handel ever wrote. The nightingale song and the gentle breezes are depicted in sounds that are simply perfect; of this chorus Winton Dean said, "No more perfect marriage of music and English words has ever been consecrated". [listen]


The subsequent acts of Solomon contain glorious visions of a glorious court. The parallels with the House of Hanover have often been drawn and there seems no reason to doubt that just as Handel's previous four oratorios spoke of their times and the need for victory, so now, with that victory achieved this oratorio would likewise address its times. Solomon addresses the balance of church and state, the importance of trade over conquest, the need for alliances with strong neighbours, the need for state-funded building programs, the need for an impartial judiciary and so many other issues pertinent to the immediate post-Jacobean period.


And yes, when Handel needed to push the "glorious" button, he could do it better than ever. [listen]


Poynter: The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon (1890)

Solomon's companion-piece, Susanna, is a contrast in almost every respect. After the national and international focus of Solomon, Susanna comes as a shock. It's described by Donald Burrows as a "domestic, human drama" and again, we don't know who the librettist was. Many scholars believe it's likely that the texts of both Solomon and Susanna were written by the same person.


Susanna tells a story derived from the Old Testament Apocrypha, the Book of Susanna which is appended to the canonical Book of Daniel. Joachim has to go away for a week and leaves his wife Susanna at home. Alone, while bathing, she is the focus of lascivious attention from two Elders, but she repulses their advances. When she is discovered in their company, the Elders make accusations about her, that she has been caught in a compromising situation with a young admirer. Susanna is convicted and sentenced to death.


It's only the intervention of the prophet Daniel, who interviews the Elders separately and finds holes in their stories, which saves Susanna's life and reputation, and the oratorio ends with her acclaimed as the model of a virtuous wife.


Handel's touch in Susanna is light; indeed one writer at the time referred to its "light, operatic style". Even more than this, Handel's approach to the story, and to the Elders especially, is almost comic and reminds us that were it not for the source of the story, the work would be counted, like Hercules and Semele, as a secular oratorio. [listen]


The chorus has very little to do in Susanna but what it does is essential to the plot. At the end, the chorus praises the glories of a virtuous wife. [listen]


Reni: Susanna and the Elders (c. 1623)

Handel disappears from the documentary record in late 1748. Nothing is known of his activities or whereabouts between finishing Susanna on 24 August and the start of the Lenten oratorio season at Covent Garden on 10 February 1749.


The season opened with the premiere of Susanna and it seems to have gone down well; it had four performances. Revivals of Hercules (two performances) and Samson (four) were given before Solomon had its premiere. Solomon had three performances, after which the season closed on Maundy Thursday with a single performance of Messiah.


The Messiah performance was the first time Handel had given the work since it ended the shortened season of 1745. This time around it raised no controversy and its traditional role as Handel's season closer was established from this performance. It was about to take on much more significance in Handel's life, and in the life of musical London, too.


The next couple of months after the end of the 1749 season were unusually busy for Handel and yet again his music was required to come to the service of the state. In February peace was officially declared in the War of the Austrian Succession, which had been concluded with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle the previous October. Britain's involvement in the war had been reluctant and not very productive, and the settlement was unfavourable to Britain's colonial interests. The result was that the Treaty was widely unpopular in Britain, so when the King decided it needed to be celebrated publicly, a major act of spin-doctoring was required to whip up public enthusiasm. The decision was made: fireworks in Green Park.


Handel was commissioned to write suitable music for the occasion and most of this was probably written in late March of 1749. Initially the composer was at odds with the King: Handel wanted strings, the King specifically said "no fiddles". The King wanted massed military instruments, Handel planned more modest numbers. The correspondence between Handel and the court officials is as fascinating as it is bad-tempered, on both sides, but Handel eventually relented and wrote his Music for the Royal Fireworks for a wind, brass and percussion band.


Despite Handel's further protests, a public rehearsal took place in Vauxhall Gardens at 11 am on 21 April, an event which resulted in London's first recorded traffic gridlock. But in the six days between that rehearsal and the performance, he had much more to do. On the day after the rehearsal, he directed a rehearsal of music for the peace treaty thanksgiving service. His newly-composed Anthem on the Peace was coupled with a revival of the "Caroline" Te Deum, but the service, which took place three days later on the 25th, was not a grand spectacle in St Paul's, but rather a more intimate affair in the Chapel Royal.



Then, on the 27th, came the night of the great fireworks display in Green Park. Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks is scored for instruments in twelve parts: three oboes, two bassoons, three horns, three trumpets and timpani. At the outdoor performance in Green Park this was played by massed forces: there were at least 24 oboes, 16 bassoons, nine horns, nine trumpets and three sets of timpani.


Handel's music consists of five main movements: an extended French overture, two dance movements and two descriptive pieces. It contains one of Handel's most famous tunes, representing rejoicing. [listen]


In addition to the chapel service and fireworks celebrations, which followed hot on the heels of his oratorio season, Handel was also in contact with London's Foundling Hospital.


The Foundling Hospital had been established in 1739 by a retired sea captain, Thomas Coram. (One of the founding governors was William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, whom we encountered in Part Three. In his capacity as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, it was he who invited Handel to perform in Dublin in 1741.) in Its formal title was "The Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children" and in early 18th century London there were certainly plenty of homeless children to be found on London's streets (hence the term "foundling"). Handel was just one of a number of prominent artistic figures who became involved in supporting the institution. The painter William Hogarth (he of The Rake's Progress) made contributions, and Handel's publisher John Walsh was elected a governor of the hospital in 1748.


The Foundling Hospital, London (1753)

In early May, 1749, Handel offered to present a fund-raising concert in the hospital's chapel. The directors happily accepted and right away offered Handel a position on the board of governors. The board's minutes record that Handel declined the offer, saying "he should Serve the Charity with more Pleasure in his Way, than being a Member of the Corporation".


The concert took place a few weeks later, on 27 May at noon, and was a mixed program of choral and instrumental music. It included the fireworks music in a scaled-down "indoor" version, with strings doubling the original oboe and bassoon parts (Handel got his fiddles after all). In addition to the Anthem on the Peace and extracts from Solomon, the concert also included the first performance of a substantial anthem especially composed for the Foundling Hospital. The Foundling Hospital Anthem, as it became known, contains this exquisite duet for two of the boy trebles. [listen]


The anthem's final movement, which follows this, is none other than the famous "Hallelujah" from Messiah but it must be remembered that in 1749 Messiah was not yet widely-known; many in the audience would have been hearing it for the first time. But its inclusion in this inaugural concert in the still-unfinished chapel at the Foundling Hospital was prophetic, as we shall soon see.


After such a busy five months Handel seems to have taken some time off for most of June, and when he did start composing again - for his next oratorio season - he wrote only one work, not two. But as Donald Burrows rightly points out, Handel could look back on the first five months of 1749 as one of the highlights of his career. Now aged 64, he clearly had a stable and loyal audience, and his status as London's leading public composer was unchallenged.


The new work, Theodora, took just over a month to write, and was completed on 31 July. But any thought that Handel was going to repeat the lightweight formula of Susanna was clearly out of the question.


Theodora straddles two worlds which Handel had more or less kept completely separate in his oratorios and odes until now: it is both classical (ie: Roman) and Christian, but it is not Biblical. It is his only oratorio set in post-Biblical Christian times, and his librettist, Thomas Morell, used as his primary source the 1687 novel by Robert Boyle called The Martyrdom of Theodora and Didymus. Boyle's novel had been reprinted very recently, in 1744, which explains how it most likely came to Morell's attention. [listen]


Set in Roman-occupied Antioch in the early 4th century, Theodora tells the dramatic and moving story of the Christian princess Theodora, who refuses to offer sacrifices to Roman gods and thereby loses her life. She is joined in love and in death by the Roman officer Didymus, who is also a Christian.


Tiepolo: The Martyrdom of St Theodora of Rome (1745)

Theodora is Handel's second-last dramatic oratorio and it marks a major shift in his style. Gone is the energetic war-mongering and tub thumping of the military oratorios, or even the rich display of Solomon, and there is certainly not a trace of the gentle domestic atmosphere of Susanna. Theodora is intense, personal, and dark, and like its successor, Jephtha, deals with deep, personal, moral issues. The ending is clouded and unclear. We admire Theodora's nobility and resolve, but Handel makes us question whether martyrdom is worth the price it demands. There is no simplistic ending, no hallelujahs to send us home in a happy frame of mind. Theodora is very real woman, full of the conflicts and contradictions which make us all human.


Theodora's prison scene in the second act is one of Handel's most moving passages. At 64 he knew all about the big questions of life. You can hear it in every bar. [listen]


At the end, Theodora and Didymus sing a blissful duet before they are led away to die. The chorus of Christians which concludes the work, "O Love Divine", strikes an appropriate tone of faith and resolution. But this is music on another plane entirely compared to the concluding choruses of most of Handel's oratorios. [listen]


At the end of July 1749, after Theodora was finished, Handel went to Bath for a rest cure but there is no evidence that he experienced at this point a major crisis with his health such as he had endured in 1737 and 1743. By the end of the year he was back in London and two days after Christmas he began writing music for a theatre project somewhat outside his usual sphere.


For someone so active in the theatre (and the oratorios are theatre works, we must remember, even if they weren't staged like operas), it comes as a surprise that Handel wrote almost nothing in the way of incidental music for plays. It was now, when he was nearly 65, that he undertook such a project, a commission to compose music for a production of the play Alceste.


Handel wrote about an hour's worth of music for the play in less than two weeks, finishing it on 8 January 1750. But less than a month later the project was cancelled and the music wasn't used, at least not in its original form.


Plans would have been in full swing in the early weeks of 1750 for Handel's next oratorio season, anyway. In preparation for this he composed a new organ concerto (HWV310), which would be played during the premiere of Theodora. [listen]


In the early months of 1750 we become aware, through surviving documentary and financial records, of one of Handel's other pleasures, namely, buying paintings, and he had expensive tastes; his large collection included works by Rembrandt. Donald Burrows points out that it was rather more than could have been hung on the walls of his Brook Street home (the auction of the paintings after Handel's death comprised 67 lots). He goes on to say that it seems "connoisseurship of the visual arts was the principal hobby of his later years, one that presumably was tragically curtailed by his blindness".


Handel's 1750 Lenten season opened on 2 March and ran until 12 April. It opened with revivals of Saul and Judas Maccabaeus before the premiere of Theodora on 16 March. Theodora had three performances in the season, which was rounded off with two of Samson and the by now traditional single Messiah to conclude.


Audiences were small during this season. It seems that rumours about an earthquake kept many people at home, but quite apart from this, Theodora's dark, internalised drama didn't strike a good note with the public. Twenty years later, Morell, the librettist, recorded Handel's words when talking about Theodora's thin houses:


The Jews will not come to it (as to Judas [Maccabaeus]) because it is a Christian story; and the Ladies will not come, because it is a virtuous one.


In March, around the time the Handel's oratorio season started, he received an invitation from the governors of the Foundling Hospital to mount another fundraising concert in the institution's chapel, as he had done the year before. Handel accepted and decided to present Messiah. This took place after Easter, on 1 May, and whatever might have been keeping Handel's audiences away from Covent Garden, it certainly wasn't keeping them away from the Foundling Hospital chapel. About a thousand people crammed into the building to hear the performance and so many were turned away that a second performance was given two weeks later.


Between the two performances Handel was invited a second time to join the board of governors of the Foundling Hospital, and this time he accepted. The 1750 Foundling Hospital Messiahs were a major turning point in his career. Just under two thousand tickets had been sold for the two performances and the respectability Messiah accrued as a result no doubt rubbed off. Remember, it was only seven years before that there was considerable debate regarding whether it was proper to perform a work about Jesus in a theatre for paying audiences. Now Messiah had made its mark as a means of raising funds for a humanitarian cause, a role it also filled at its premiere in Dublin, by the way. And the resulting kudos for Handel, after a disappointing season, could not have been better-timed.


On 1 June Handel made his will, and towards the end of month returned to the music he'd written for the abandoned Alceste six months before. This he reworked, over the space of a week or so, into a one act dramatic cantata called The Choice of Hercules; he was never )one to let music go to waste. Telling the ancient Greek story of Hercules choosing between Pleasure and Virtue, The Choice of Hercules is yet another example of a little-known gem from Handel's pen. [listen]


Around 11 August Handel left for the Continent. His exact itinerary isn't known, but he did spend time in Holland as his playing of various organs was noted in several sources there in August and September. It's assumed that he travelled to Halle in October and November to see what family he still had there. Early in the trip he was injured in a coach accident between The Hague and Haarlem, but he eventually recovered and was able to continue his travels.


Handel was back in London by mid-December; a letter from him to Telemann written from London shortly after his return still exists. Over the first four days of January 1751 he composed a new organ concerto to play in his next Lenten season (HWV308). Later published as No 3 in the Opus 7 set of organ concertos, this turned out to be Handel's last purely orchestral work. It's a work he substantially revised to the point of writing out a complete second copy of the new version. It's sometimes called the "Hallelujah" concerto because of the opening bars - not in the original version but added in the revision - which sound like the start of the famous chorus from Messiah. [listen]


Handel must have been concerned that by January he didn't have two new oratorios ready for his forthcoming season. The Choice of Hercules was only the equivalent of one act of a full oratorio, and he planned to present it as a double bill with a revival of Alexander's Feast; together they would make up a full evening. But that was it.


On 21 January he began work on a new oratorio, Jephtha, but on 13 February he had to abandon his work during the last chorus of the second act because of problems with his eyesight. He made a note in the score - in German, interestingly - that he had to stop because of the "relaxation" of his left eye. The appalling irony (Donald Burrows' perfect term) lay in the fact that the words he was setting to music at that point began, "How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees", and the last words Handel set before stopping work were, "all hid from mortal sight". [listen]


Others, for the time being, seemed unaware of Handel's problems with his vision, and what problems there were seemed to come and go at first. Ten days later he resumed work on Jephtha and managed to complete the second act four days after that. But there was still the third act to go.


By this stage Handel had already started his 1751 oratorio season at Covent Garden. It opened on 22 February and only ran until 20 March as theatres were required to close due to the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales. The season such as it was had comprised revivals of Belshazzar, Esther and Judas Maccabaeus in addition to the premiere of The Choice of Hercules in tandem with Alexander's Feast.


On 14 March there was a report that Handel had lost the sight of one eye; his misfortunes were becoming public knowledge. But his schedule continued with not one but two Messiah performances after Easter (one in April, another in May) at the Foundling Hospital.


In June Handel went to Bath for another rest cure, returning to London on the 13th. Five days later he returned to Jephtha, determined to finish the piece, which he did a month later. Final orchestration and revisions were completed on 30 August. I suspect Handel knew that he had written his last oratorio.


As with many of Handel's later works, his librettist for Jephtha was Thomas Morell. The plot is based on an incident in the Old Testament but greatly fleshed out along the lines of several famous versions of the story, most notably Carissimi's Latin oratorio and a number of English precedents.


The story is very similar to the Iphigenia story in classical legend: In return for victory in battle, Jephtha promises to sacrifice to God the first person he sees afterwards. This turns out to be his daughter. The daughter isn't named in the Bible story but Morell calls her Iphis, surely a sign that he was all too aware of the Greek parallels. As Iphis is about to be sacrificed, an Angel appears to say that God doesn't require her death but that he commutes the vow to a life of perpetual virginity. This seems to satisfy everyone and the work ends with rejoicing.


Morell's deus ex machina has come in for some criticism over the years, but it can't be denied that such an ending was completely within the bounds of good taste and the expectations of an 18th century English audience. It also seems neither Handel nor Morell wanted to risk another tragic ending which might create disapproval similar to that which met Theodora.


Handel's music shows that he felt very deeply the plight of father and daughter, the last of many such occasions in the operas and the oratorios where father/daughter relationships seemed to move him, as they did Verdi, to write music of deep emotion. Handel never married and as far as we know had no children; his devotion to his niece back in Germany hints at how much he might have missed this special bond in his own life. The depth of the music he wrote for father and daughter in Jephtha suggests he missed it very much. Winton Dean went even further when he said that the character of Jephtha comes as close as Handel ever came to creating an unconscious self-portrait. [listen]


Pellegrini: The Return of Jephtha (c. 1720)

Handel's activities for the remainder of 1751, after completing Jephtha at the end of August, are not known. But there can be no doubt that from here on his assistant John Christopher Smith Jr became more and more important to him in the management and execution of his work. Smith's father, John Christopher Smith Sr, was German (his name is an Anglicised version of Johann Christoph Schmidt) and he came to London as Handel's copyist way back in 1718 or thereabouts. The younger Smith (born 1712) studied with and worked for Handel and by the early 1750s had taken over the effective management of Handel's performances as the composer's eyesight worsened.


Zoffany: John Christopher Smith Jnr (c. 1763)

The Covent Garden season of 1752, which ran from 14 February to 26 March and during which he celebrated his 67th birthday, was the last fully directed by Handel. There were revivals of Joshua and Hercules before the premiere of Jephtha, after which came revivals of Samson and Judas Maccabaeus, and the traditional Messiah to end the season. The Foundling Hospital Messiah was now also a regular fixture in London's musical calendar, and this took place on 9 April.


With the premiere of Jephtha, the 1752 season marked the last time Handel presented a completely new work. There can be no doubt Handel's audiences saw the connection between the composer and the title character of Jephtha as much as he probably did. The work is remarkable and moving on so many levels, a fitting end to a mighty creative career.


From here on Handel's public appearances would be few. A press report on 17 August mentions a return of his "paralytick disorder", and that he was quite blind. He underwent an operation in November at the hands of William Blomfield, surgeon to the Princess of Wales, and there were initially hopes that this had helped his sight. But sadly, it was not to be. In January 1753 there was a further report that Handel was now completely blind.


The Lenten oratorio seasons at Covent Garden, though, continued, under Smith's direction. The programs comprised revivals only, of course, but Handel's loyal audience wanted to hear them. In 1753 he seems to have taken part in the performances playing the organ in concertos or in improvisations, but it's doubtful that even this limited involvement continued beyond this season. These are the last reported occasions on which he played in public.


The seasons of 1753, 54, 55, and 56 ran as they always had, ending with Messiah before Easter, followed by a performance of Messiah at the Foundling Hospital after Easter. Smith managed and directed all these, although there can be no doubt that Handel's input was paramount in terms of repertoire, revisions and casting.


Hudson: George Frideric Handel (1756)

Handel's 70th birthday in 1755 seems to have passed quietly. At the start of 1757, not long before he turned 72, he seemed healthier and to have more energy. There were even reports that he had started composing again, but this seems to have been a reference to the fact that with the aid of Smith and others, he was preparing a new version of his Italian oratorio Il trionfo del tempo which he had written in Rome nearly half a century before when he was 22. In 1737 Handel had presented a version of this (in Italian) in his mixed opera and oratorio seasons; now, with help, he prepared an all-English version under the title The Triumph of Time and Truth. [listen]


Virtually the entire work was recycled; only some recitatives and possibly the overture were new, and even these may not have been Handel's work anyway. But it did mean a new offering could be included in the season Smith mounted in 1757 along with revivals of other works.


The regular performances of Messiah at the Foundling Hospital had continued, and it was Handel who had paid for the chapel's new organ when it was built. Such was the connection between Messiah and the Foundling Hospital that in the third codicil to his will, made on 4 August 1757, Handel bequeathed his Messiah score and performance parts to the institution.


The chapel of the Foundling Hospital no longer stands but Thomas Coram's concern for needy children still continues with the institution, now called the Thomas Coram Foundation, which is on the same site in central London. (There is a Handel Street nearby.) The Gerald Coke collection of Handel scores and performance material, including the material Handel left to the Foundling Hospital, is housed there in The Foundling Museum and accessible to scholars for research. I have visited the museum a number of times and perhaps the most moving thing I saw was Handel's will. Each codicil required a new signature, which gets shakier and frailer as the years progressed.


Handel's signature on the third codicil to his will (1757)

The season of 1758 included six works, and later in the year Handel visited Tunbridge Wells to "take the waters" and have a rest cure. It was around this time he met the "occulist" John Taylor, who seems to have attempted surgery on Handel's eyes. Taylor had operated unsuccessfully on the eyes of JS Bach in Leipzig a decade earlier.


Handel by this stage was only attending performances in the oratorio season; he no longer took any active part. As early as 1753, the Countess of Shaftesbury made this sad observation at one of his performances:


It was such a melancholy pleasure, as drew tears of sorrow to see the great though unhappy Handel, dejected, wan, and dark, sitting by, not playing the harpsichord, and to think how his light had been spent by being overplied in music's cause.


The Covent Garden season of 1759 ran from 2 March to 6 April. Handel attended the final night - Messiah as usual - but was unable to travel to Bath immediately afterwards as he had hoped to because he was too ill. Five days later, on Wednesday 11th, he added the final codicil to his will. Seeing that signature up close was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was quite probably the last thing he ever wrote.


On Good Friday, 13th April, there was a premature announcement of Handel's death in the press. In fact he died, aged 74, the following morning, as James Smyth reported in a letter to Handel's friend Bernard Granville:


On Saturday last at 8 o'clock in the morn died the great and good Mr Handel. He was sensible to the last...I had the pleasure to reconcile him to his old friends...He died as he lived - a good Christian, with a true sense of his duty to God and man, and in perfect charity with all the world.


Handel's will set aside 600 pounds for the creation of a monument over his grave in Westminster Abbey. It seems that this was the first the authorities at Westminster Abbey knew that Handel expected to be buried there, but the composer's wishes were carried out. His funeral in the abbey on 20 April was private, not a state occasion, yet some 3,000 people attended. He was buried in the south crossing, an area known as Poet's Corner because it's where famous writers are buried. Musicians were normally buried under the organ but the south crossing is more open and public. Charles Dickens was buried next to Handel in 1870; one can imagine the conversations...


The Roubilliac monument to handel on the wall above his grave in Westeminster Abbey

Handel's grave beneath the Roubilliac monument. The birthdate of 1684 on both is not an error. Britain's financial year began on 25 March each year and at the time it was customary to change the year on that date, not 1 January.

The transformation of Georg Friedrich Händel, German opera composer and keyboard virtuoso, into George Frideric Handel, English composer, organist and public institution, is one the extraordinary journeys of music history. Handel's creation and development of the English oratorio influenced English music for nearly two centuries, providing the impetus for some of the greatest choral works in the repertoire: Haydn's Creation, Mendelssohn's Elijah, Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius and Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, to name a few. We owe him a lot. [listen]


In this series my primary source has been the biography of Handel by Donald Burrows, published in 1994 by Oxford University Press as part of the Master Musicians series. Other references consulted include the revised edition of Christopher Hogwood's Handel biography, published in 2007 by Thames and Hudson, The Cambridge Companion to Handel, edited by Donald Burrows and published in 1997, and Winton Dean's Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques, first published in 1959.


My "go to" biography of Handel

Handel's English World was presented on ABC Classic FM (now ABC Classic) as a special six-part series in December 2014 and January 2015.

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