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In Honor of Handel's Birthday

By Mrs. Boynton

Teacher of Grades 4-5 Bible Study, History, Geography, Latin, Math 6/7, Lower School Music, Upper School Latin II, Bell Choir


George Frideric Handel was born in Halle, Germany on February 23, 1685. At a very young age Handel expressed interest in music, but his father, a successful barber-surgeon, was determined that his son would study law--a more stable career--and would not allow him to take lessons. His mother, however, found a way to get young George a clavichord; George practiced faithfully.


At the age of 8 or 9 a local duke heard him play. The duke was so impressed with George’s playing that he introduced him to Wilhelm Zachow, an accomplished organist and composer, with whom George would begin lessons. By the age of 11, Handel finished his first compositions.


At the age of 18 Handel moved to Hamburg where he would play the violin, and later the harpsichord, in the Hamburg opera house. It was in Hamburg that he composed his first four operas. At the age of 20 Handel moved to Italy where he would live for the next five years. While in Italy he met many famous composers and gained success as a composer of two operas and many other works.


At the age of 26 Handel moved to England, where he would remain for the rest of his life. He composed many pieces for the English nobility, including music for a royal fireworks show and music for the coronation of King George II, which has been used in every English coronation since. While in England Handel also gained fame as an opera composer. He would eventually compose 43 more operas, telling stories from many sources including Greek mythology, Roman history, and the Bible.


As opera became less popular Handel began composing a new kind of work called an oratorio. An oratorio is a large-scale concert piece with a full orchestra and vocalists, that tells a story, but does not require sets and costumes like an opera.


The most famous of these oratorios came at a hard time in Handel’s life. His last several works had not been successful. He was in debt, struggling with bad health, and prepared to retire. Just then, a friend, Charles Jennens, gave Handel a libretto, which is a script for a long choral work. He was also commissioned by a church in Ireland to write a new piece for a benefit concert.


Handel shut himself away for three and a half weeks and worked feverishly to write a new oratorio. A work that he would say was inspired by God, Handel’s Messiah. The concert successfully raised enough money to free 142 men from debtor’s prison.


A year later the Messiah was performed again in London, where King George famously stood in awe and appreciation for the Hallelujah Chorus, creating a tradition of standing for the chorus that is still observed today.


Handel conducted the Messiah over 30 more times in his life, most often as a benefit concert for the Foundling Hospital that he would later provide for in his will. The Messiah is not the last piece that he wrote, but it is his greatest and most inspired legacy.


In honor of Handel's birthday, considering listening to the London Philharmonic Orchestra perform Handel's Messiah:


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This historical thought was delivered by students in 4th and 5th grades at devotional on 2/23/23. Each week one class leads the student body in prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, scripture recitation, a meditation, and an historical thought. Family and friends are welcome, Thursdays 8:30-9:05 am


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