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An internationally known German composer and keyboard virtuoso, George Handel has written more than 40 Italian operas, chamber music, church music, oratorios and instrumental music. His versatility in composing has led to a career full of accomplishments, including writing Italian operas and English oratorios.
George Handel was born in Halle to a distinguished barber who wanted his son to become a lawyer. By the age of 12, George Handel had already mastered several instruments. He was the assistant organist at the Halle Cathedral, becoming the main organist at the age of 17. His teacher, Friedrich Willhelm Zachau, greatly encouraged George Handel's musical genius. Despite encouragement from his teacher, George Handel enrolled at the University of Halle to study law. After a year he dropped out to study music and orchestration in Hamburg.
Once in Hamburg, George Handel became a violinist in a theater orchestra. During this time he taught himself how to write opera. He composed his first opera, Almira, in 1704. After achieving success and writing three more operas he moved on to Italy in an attempt to learn more about opera composition. From Italy he traveled to Rome and Naples all the while composing. In 1709 he finished his sixth opera, Agrippina, in Venice.
In 1710 he then moved to London. The first opera he composed while in London was Rinaldo, in which he achieved great success. The Duke of Chandos, after seeing the opera, gave George Handel permission to compose an oratorio titled "Esther and the 11 Chandos anthems for choir and string orchestra." It was this accomplishment that won him the approval of the king and permission to open the Royal Academy of Music. Some of George Handel's best operas were performed there including Radamisto, Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano and Rodelinda. The Academy collapsed in 1728. George Handel attempted to open another company but that too collapsed in the 1730s. George Handel suffered a stroke in 1737 and was forced to retire while recovering.
After recovering from his stroke, George Handel resumed composing. In 1741, he composed his last opera Deidamia. His most memorable work, Messiah, was also composed at this time. It was first performed in Dublin and earned immediate success. When the king of England saw the performance and stood at the end, everyone else also stood. This has become a tradition at a Messiah performance, that everyone stands at the end for the Hallelujah chorus. English dramatic oratorios, concertos and instrumental music were George Handel's main compositions in the late 40s. He composed about two oratorios a year including Samson in 1743 and Solomon in 1749. In 1751, he eyesight began to fail and his composing decreased.
One of the greatest composers of the Baroque period, George Handel composed during the time of J.S. Bach, Henry Purcell, George Philip Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi. Despite his numerous operas, concertos, oratorios and dramas, George Handel's greatest accomplishment as a composer was the invention of the dramatic oratorio genre.
The last performance George Handel attended was his own Messiah. He died in London in 1759. Even his funeral was a grand accomplishment. More than 3,000 mourners were present for the funeral of the famous composer. He was buried at Westminster Abbey and received full state honors.