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Guide to George Frideric Handel: Concerts and Reviews

January 2018
Evening performance
Matinee performance

Three festivals for Mr. Handel

Sandra takes us on a guided tour round Germany's major international Handel Festivals: Göttingen, Halle and Karlsruhe.
George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel

Baroque month: a guided tour of Handel's Messiah

Jane Shuttleworth is your personal guide around Handel’s greatest hit, from the solemn overture to the energetic and complex final fugue.

Handel or Bach? The great Baroque debate

For Bachtrack’s Baroque Music Month, musicologist and passionate Handel advocate Corrina Connor and Margaret Steinitz, Artistic Director of the London Bach Society, debate the relative merits of their preferred Baroque composer.

A Species of Musick Different From Any Other: Handel's Messiah

“It is difficult in no common degree to write anew concerning The Messiah,”1 said the music writer Henry F Chorley in 1859. The piece was, of course, 117 years old at the time, and there has only been more written on this landmark composition since. Handel’s Messiah is not just a popular classic, after all: it’s also a hugely important work.
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BarcelonaRobert King & The King's Consort

Child, Handel, Purcell, Tallis, Farmer, Blow
The King's Consort; Robert King; The Choir of The King's Consort

VallettaConversazioni Musicali

Handel, Greene, Bononcini
Luke Green, Artistic Director

MadridCiclo Sinfónico: De Rusia con la voz

Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart, Sibelius
Orquesta Nacional de España; Santtu-Matias Rouvali; Julia Lezhneva

SalzburgMuseumskonzert: Fugenwerkstatt

Mozart, Bach, Bach J. C., Bach W.F., Handel, Eberlin, Muffat, Froberger
Florian Birsak; Ulrich Leisinger

LincolnThe Sixteen: Vivaldi Gloria

Vivaldi, Bach, Handel
The Orchestra of The Sixteen; Harry Christophers; The Sixteen
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"It must be so": Handel's Jephtha

Claus Guth's production of Handel's last oratorio lands in Paris, where William Christie leads Les Arts Florissants and a stellar cast. 
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Scotch Beasts and other forms of Britishness in Philadelphia's Winter Festival

The Philadelphia Orchestra's Winter Festival celebrates the British Isles. 
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From Rameau to Mahler: Rattle and Kožená entertain in wide-ranging LSO programme

Rattle’s versatility was on display in the wide range of the menu, yet he found greater affinity in Schubert and Mahler than in French Baroque. 
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No ordinary Messiah at the Barbican

Superlative musicianship and extravagant detailing from the force-of-nature that is Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music 
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Rousseau and a boxing ring: Ariodante in Stuttgart

In Jussi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s pugilistic production of Ariodante, the singers needed as much physical and gymnastic dexterity as vocal finesse.
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Portrait of Handel by George Knapton © by kind permission of the Royal Academy of Music
Portrait of Handel by George Knapton
© by kind permission of the Royal Academy of Music

Handel was born in 1685 in the Saxon town of Halle, but he became an English citizen and died in London in 1759. He enjoyed success in several different countries and his musical style ranged accordingly, from Italian opera to the German suite and the English anthem, from the concerto grosso to the royal birthday ode.

A deep interest in opera drew Handel first to Hamburg and then in 1706 to Italy, in order to study the genre at source and thus be able to develop his creative talent. In Venice his Agrippina (1709) was enthusiastically acclaimed, receiving 27 performances before he returned to Germany to become Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover. But opera remained his first love, and it was the chance to renew his involvement with the theatre which soon drew him to London, where his opera Rinaldo was produced in 1711.

From the time Handel settled in England in 1712, his achievement was such that he attained a position of some eminence in the cultural life of the nation. The accession in 1714 of his former employer, the Elector Georg Ludwig of Hanover, to the English throne as George I might have been an embarrassment, had not the King recognised both Handel's genius and the fact that a fellow German-speaker would be useful to him in London society.

As early as 1713, for instance, Handel provided a Birthday Ode for Queen Anne and a Te Deum and Jubilate to celebrate the peace of Utrecht, while ten years later he wrote his impressive set of four Coronation Anthems for the new King George II. One of these, Zadok the Priest, has been performed at every subsequent coronation. Handel's role as 'composer laureate', moreover, continued for the rest of his life.

In 1717 Handel entered the service of James Brydges, soon to be created Duke of Chandos, at his lavish home Cannons at Edgware. There he wrote anthems and dramatic music, such as the oratorio Esther and the pastoral opera Acis and Galatea, both to English words. He also turned to instrumental sonatas and suites, writing trio sonatas and keyboard music of enduring value.

In 1719 a Royal Academy of Music was created by wealthy enthusiasts in order to promote Italian opera. Handel was appointed its musical director and was involved in every aspect of the operation, even traveling to Europe to recruit singers. The next few years were prolific indeed, with operatic masterpieces such as Radamisto, Ottone, Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda, Tamerlano and Admeto. Thanks to Handel London had become the operatic capital of Europe.

In nearly forty operas Handel allowed the structure and virtuosity of opera seria to be moulded into a musical language of truly human dimensions. However, as time passed public support proved fickle and in 1729 the Academy venture collapsed, to be replaced by a new company at Covent Garden, replete with with singers recruited from Italy. There is no question that Handel was the greatest musical cosmopolitan of the day: a German composer, living in London, and writing Italian operas. In these operas there are relatively few ensembles and choruses. Dialogue takes place in lightly accompanied recitatives, but the arias are supremely rich and varied, strongly characterised while offering abundant opportunities for vocal virtuosity. The star singers were highly paid entertainers with international reputations, including castrati such as Caffarelli (real name Gaetano Majorano).

When during the 1730s this type of opera became unfashionable, Handel renewed his career by successfully creating a new genre for performance in the theatre, the oratorio in English on Biblical texts. These oratorios became hugely popular and they also contain some wonderful music. The majority are based on tales from the Old Testament: Samson, Belshazar, Joshua, Solomon and Saul, for example. The most successful has of course been Messiah (1742), which has become a veritable institution in our national life, performed year on year, and much more frequently than the remainder put together. At these oratorio performances, Handel included interval performances of concertos, sometimes featuring himself as organ soloist. His greatest achievement in the field was his set of twelve concerti grossi, Opus 6 (1739), which he composed at the suggestion of his publisher John Walsh. These are among the great instrumental works of the baroque era and, typically, they frequently employ music borrowed from earlier compositions as well as new material.

During the 1750s Handel’s health and eyesight deteriorated, until he went blind. He died on 14th April 1759 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Among contemporary composers his mastery was equalled only by Bach; but in opera he was without peer, the outstanding opera composer during the entire period between Monteverdi and Mozart.

© Terry Barfoot/BBC

Schneider portrait of Handel reproduced by permission of Händel-Haus, Halle. Engraving reproduced by permission of the BBC

List of works
Acis and GalateaAgrippinaAgrippina: Pensieri, voi mi tormentateAgrippina: SinfoniaAh che troppo ineguali, HWV 230AlcinaAlcina HWV 34: ballet musicAlcina, HWV 34: Tornami a vagheggiarAlcina, HWV 34: Verdi pratiAlcina, HWV 34: overtureAlessandro, HWV 21: Aure, fonti, ombre graditeAlessandro, HWV 21: Brilla nell' alma un non inteso ancorAlessandro, HWV 21: Solitudine amate in cui sfogarmilive una flamma infeliceApollo e DafneArianna in CretaArias from Oratorios and OperasAriodanteAriodante, HWV33: Ballet musicAriodante, HWV33: Dopo notteAriodante, HWV33: OvertureAriodante, HWV33: Scherza infidaAthaliaBelshazzar, HWV 61: Great victor at your feet I bowBerenice, regina d'EgittoBlessed are they that considereth the poor, (Foundling Hospital Anthem) HWV 268Brockes Passion, HWV 48Chaconne for Harpsichord with 2 Sets of Keys in F major, HWV 485Chaconne from TerpischoreChandos Anthems, HWV 246-56Concerto Grosso in A major, Op.6 No.11, HWV 329Concerto Grosso in A minor, Op.6 no.4, HWV 322Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op.3 No.1, HWV 312Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op.3 No.2, HWV 313Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op.6 No.7, HWV 325Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op.6 No.12, HWV 330Concerto Grosso in C major for "Alexander's Feast", HWV 318Concerto Grosso in C minor, Op.6 No.8, HWV 326Concerto Grosso in D major, Op.6 No.5, HWV 323Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op.3 No.5, HWV 316Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op.6 No.10, HWV 328Concerto Grosso in F major, Op.6 No.2, HWV 320Concerto Grosso in F major, Op.6 No.9, HWV 327Concerto Grosso in G major, Op.3 no.3, HWV 314Concerto Grosso in G major, Op.6 no.1, HWV 319Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op.6 no.6, HWV 324Concerto a Quattro in D minor (attrib.)Conservate, raddoppiate, HWV 185Dixit Dominus in G minor, HWV 232English songs, HWV 228.1-.24Esther, HWV 50aEsther, HWV 50a: The Lord Our Enemy Has SlainEsther, HWV 50a: overtureFlute Sonata in G major, Op.1 no.5, HWV 363bFuneral Anthem for Queen Caroline, HWV 264Giulio Cesare in Egitto, (Julius Caesar in Egypt) HWV 17Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: AriasGiulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Cara speme, questo coreGiulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Da tempesteGiulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Piangerò la sorte miaGiulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Son nata a lagrimarGiulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Svegliatevi nel coreGiulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: overtureGloria in excelsis deo, HWV 245Gloria, HWV deestIl Delirio Amoroso, (Da quel giorno fatale) HWV 99Il duello amoroso, HWV 82Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, HWV 46a: Tu del ciel ministro elettoIsrael in EgyptJephthaJephtha HWV 70: 'Scenes of horror, scenes of woeJephtha, HWV 70: excerptsJudas Maccabeus: O Lovely PeaceLet thy hand be strengthened; Coronation Anthem No. 4, HWV 259Lucio Cornelio SillaMessiahMessiah HWV56: Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of ZionMessiah, HWV 56: Comfort yeMessiah, HWV 56: Ev'ry valley shall be exaltedMessiah, HWV 56: Hallelujah ChorusMessiah, HWV 56: OvertureMessiah, HWV 56: excerptsMuzio ScevolaMy heart is inditing; Coronation Anthem No. 3, HWV 261Nisi Dominus, HWV 238No, di voi non vo' fidarmi, HWV 189, HWV 190O come, let us sing unto the Lord; Chandos Anthem No. 8, HWV 253Oboe Concerto no. 3 in G minor, HWV 287Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HWV 74Oreste, HWV A11Organ Concerto in B flat major, Op.4 no.6, HWV 294Organ Concerto in D minor, HWV 304Organ Concerto in F major "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale", HWV 295Organ Concerto in F major, Op.4 no.4, HWV 292Organ Concerto in G minor, Op.4 no.1, HWV 289Organ Concerto in G minor, Op.4 no.3, HWV 291Organ Concerto in G minor, Op.7 no.5, HWV 310OrlandoOrlando HWV 31:Fammi combattereOrmisda, HWV A3Parnasso in festaPartenopePublio Cornelio ScipioneRadamisto, HWV 12a, bRinaldoRinaldo, HWV 7: Augelletti, che cantateRinaldo, HWV 7: Lascia ch'io piangaRinaldo, HWV 7: suiteRodelinda, regina de' LangobardiRodrigo, HWV 5: Per dar pregioRoyal Fireworks Music, HWV 351SamsonSamson, HWV 57: Let the bright SeraphimSamson, HWV 57: Thus when the sun from’s wat’ry bedSamson: Total EclipseSaulSemeleSerse (Xerxes)Serse (Xerxes), HWV 40: Crude furieSerse (Xerxes), HWV 40: Ombra mai fùSerse (Xerxes), HWV 40: Se bramate d'amar, chi vi sdegnaSolomonSolomon, HWV 67: Arrival of the Queen of ShebaSuite de pièce in D minor, Vol 2 no. 4, HWV 437Suite de pièce in E major, Vol 1 no. 5 (aka "The Harmonious Blacksmith" or "Air and Variations in E major"), HWV 430Suite de pièce in G major, Vol 2 no. 2 (aka "Chaconne in G major"), HWV 435Susanna, HWV 66: Crystal streams in murmurs flowingTe Deum in B flat major "Chandos" or "Cannons", HWV 281The Choice of HerculesThe King shall rejoice, HWV 265The King shall rejoice; Coronation Anthem No. 2, HWV 260The Lord is my light; Chandos Anthem No. 10, HWV 255The Triumph of Time and TruthTheodora, HWV 68: AriasTrio Sonata in G major, Op.5 no.4, HWV 399: PassacailleWater Music, HWV 348-50Water Music, HWV 348-50: excerptsWater Music, Suite no. 1 in F major, HWV 348Water Music, Suite no. 1 in F major, HWV 348: Air, no.5Water Music, Suite no. 2 in D major, HWV 349Water Music, Suite no. 3 in G major, HWV 350Zadok the Priest, HWV 258: God save the KingZadok the priest; Coronation Anthem No. 1, HWV 258