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This Day in History - February 23

Composer George Frederick Handel was born.
Video | February 23, 2017 | By Jonathan Shipley


On this day, in 1685 in Halle-on-Saal, German composer George Frederick Handel was born. Born the same year as J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, he is considered one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era. His most popular works, still played with great regularity, include Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks, and Messiah (that includes the great "Hallelujuah Chorus").

Mozart said of him, "Handel understands affect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt." Beethoven said of him that he was, "the master of us all...the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb." Handel died, at the age of 78 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

He was prolific. He wrote 42 operas, 29 oratorios, more than 120 cantatas, trios and duets, numerous arias, chamber musi, a large number of ecumenical pieces, odes and serenatas, and 16 organ concerti. His opera, Semele, was performed by the Seattle Opera in 2015. You can learn about that production, here. The San Francisco Opera recently did his opera, Partenope. You can read a review of that 2014 production, here. Recently, the Taproot Theatre had a production of Joyful Noise, a play that discusses Handel's creation of his Messiah. You can read that Encore Arts Program, here. Handel's Messiah is done every holiday season by the Seattle Symphony. Last holiday season was no exception. Read the Encore Arts Program of that performance, here.

Some Handel fun facts:

Handel's father wasn't too keen on Handel pursusing a life in music. Handel played clavichord in secret up in his attic.

He had a duel with a fellow composer using swords. He left the duel unscathed because the opposing man's sword struck a button on his chest rather than his chest itself. 

His final oratorio, Jephtha, was written while he was rapidly going blind. Eventually, he wrote on the score, "Reached here on 13 February 1751, unable to go on owing to weakening of the sight of my left eye."

His most famous work:

His opera, Alcina:

From his Music for the Royal Fireworks:

From Jephtha: