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Guide to George Frideric Handel: Concerts and Reviews

April 2017
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Biblical epics the stars of the 2017 Handel Halle Festival

Every year, Halle honours one of its favourite sons – composer Georg Friedrich Händel, who was born there in 1685. The Handel Halle Festival takes place from the end of May until early June and attracts the top Baroque performers from all over the globe.
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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LondonMostly Mozart by Candlelight

Mozart, Bach, Handel
Peter Dyson; Belmont Ensemble of London; Costas Fotopoulos

New York CityAriodante

Handel: Ariodante
Harry Bicket; Mary Bevan; Christiane Karg; Joyce DiDonato; Sonia Prina


Handel: Ariodante
Harry Bicket; Washington National Opera; Joyce DiDonato; Christiane Karg; Mary Bevan; David Portillo

LondonHandel, Pärt, Schumann

Handel, Pärt, Schumann
Christina McMaster; Kristine Balanas; Margerita Balanas

GranadaThe Escape of Maestro Tartini

Tartini, Corelli, Caldara, Vivaldi, Handel
Alexis Aguado; Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga
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Royal Northern Sinfonia's Israel in Egypt

Nicholas McGegan leads Royal Northern Sinfonia and Samling soloists through a dramatic and thought-provoking performance of Handel's Israel in Egypt to offer an alternative look at the Easter message of hope. 
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Two discoveries at the Virginia Symphony

Young countertenor Aryah Nussbaum Cohen steps in at the last minute to premiere Kenneth Fuchs’ fascinating new composition Poems of Life.
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An Irish pub setting for Acis and Galatea in Dublin

Ovid’s Metamorphosis (on which the episode of Acis and Galatea is based) set in an Irish pub? Cowboys in place of shepherds and a bartender instead of a nymph?
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Harry Bicket charms with all-Baroque Cleveland Orchestra program

Guest conductor Harry Bicket transformed the chameleon-like Cleveland Orchestra for this program of Handel, Rameau, and Purcell.
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Agrippina meets Dynasty in Antwerp

Opera Vlaanderen revives a production of Handel's Agrippina based on American soap operas of the 1980s.
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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
Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, HWV 72Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, HWV 72 : Fra L'ombre e gl'orroriAcis and GalateaAgrippina: Pensieri, voi mi tormentateAh! crudel, nel pianto mio, HWV 78AlcinaAlcina, HWV 34: Ombre pallideAlmiraAlmira, HWV 1: overtureArias from Oratorios and OperasAriodanteAriodante, HWV33: Dopo notteAriodante, HWV33: Scherza infidaBrockes Passion, HWV 48Chandos 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.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 D minor, Op.6 No.10, HWV 328Concerto Grosso in F major, Op.3 No.4a, HWV 315Concerto 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 due cori in F major, no. 3, HWV 334Concerto grosso in g-Moll, Op.6 no.6Coronation Anthems, HWV 258-61Deborah, HWV 51Die verwandelte DaphneDixit Dominus in G minor, HWV 232Esther, HWV 50bFugue in A minor, HWV 609Fugue in C minor, HWV 610Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Da tempesteGiulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Svegliatevi nel coreGiustinoGloria in excelsis deo, HWV 245Handel Project (Progetto Händel)Harpsichord SuitesIl Delirio Amoroso, (Da quel giorno fatale) HWV 99Israel in EgyptJephthaJephtha HWV 70: 'Scenes of horror, scenes of woeJephtha, HWV 70: excerptsL'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV 55: As steals the morn upon the nightL'Elpidia, overo Li rivali generosi, HWV A1La ResurrezioneLet thy hand be strengthened; Coronation Anthem No. 4, HWV 259LotarioLucio Cornelio SillaMeine Seele hört im sehen HWV 207MessiahMessiah, HWV 56: Hallelujah ChorusNine German Arias (Deutsche Arien), HWV 202-10Oboe Concerto no. 3 in G minor, HWV 287Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HWV 74: Eternal Source of Light DivineOrgan 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 291OrlandoOrlando HWV 31:Fammi combattereOrlando, HWV31: Ah stigie larve (Mad scene)Partenope HWV 27: Sento Amor con novi dardiRadamisto, HWV 12a, bRecorder Sonata in F major, Op.1 no.11, HWV 369Rejoice, the Lord is King, HWV 286Riccardo Primo, re d'Inghilterra, HWV 23: Il VoloRinaldoRinaldo, HWV 7: Augelletti, che cantateRinaldo, HWV 7: Lascia ch'io piangaRinaldo, HWV 7: Sulla ruota di fortunaRinaldo, HWV7: Cara sposaRoyal Fireworks Music, HWV 351Royal Fireworks Music, HWV 351: excerptsSamson, HWV 57: Let the bright SeraphimSemeleSerse (Xerxes)Silete venti, HWV 242Solomon, HWV 67: Arrival of the Queen of ShebaSosarme, re di MediaSt John PassionSuite de pièce in G major, Vol 2 no. 2 (aka "Chaconne in G major"), HWV 435Suite de pièce in G minor, Vol 1 no. 7, HWV 432Suite for trumpet and strings in D Major, HWV341Suite no. 7 in G minor for violin and viola, HWV 432: PassacagliaSusanna, HWV 66: Crystal streams in murmurs flowingSüsse Stille, sanfte Quelle ruhiger Gelassenheit HWV 205TamerlanoTerpsichoreThe King shall rejoice; Coronation Anthem No. 2, HWV 260Trio Sonata in G minor, HWV 393Tu fedel? Tu costante?, HWV 171Violin Sonata in D minor, HWV 359aWater Music Chamber Suite, AppendixWater Music, HWV 348-50Water Music, HWV 348-50: excerptsWater Music, Suite no. 1 in F major, HWV 348Water Music, Suite no. 2 in D major, HWV 349Water Music, Suite no. 3 in G major, HWV 350Zadok the priest; Coronation Anthem No. 1, HWV 258