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Guide to George Frideric Handel: Concerts and Reviews

November 2017
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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Handel, Rutter
Matthias Hellmons; Stephanie Henke; Clemens Löschmann; Städtischer Musikverein Oelde; Capella Loburgensis Ostbevern

MalvernGiulio CesareConcert performance

Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto, (Julius Caesar in Egypt) HWV 17
Jonathan Peter Kenny; English Touring Opera; James Conway; Christopher Ainslie; Soraya Mafi

Bern1. Brunchkonzert: All about that Bass

Handel, Lauber, Schäfer, Sundy, Makhoshvili
Bern Symphony Orchestra

BudapestAngelic Voices - advent concert by the Cantemus Choir

Handel, Britten, Kocsár, Caccini, Traditional, Palestrina, Schütz, Kay, Chilcott, Gyöngyösi, Kodály, Franck, Biebl, Bach, Gounod, Ešenvalds, Wade, Rutter
Dénes Szabó; Soma Szabó; Nyíregyháza Cantemus Mixed Choir; Nyíregyházi Pro Musica Girls' Choir

BarcelonaVivica Genaux & Les Musiciens du Louvre

Handel, Porpora, Hasse
Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble; Vivica Genaux
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Baroque pyrotechnics: Handel's Serse dazzles at Versailles

An evening of exquisite Baroque music and flamboyant coloratura at the Royal Theatre in Versailles.
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Giulio Cesare in concert: Lawrence Zazzo and Emőke Baráth came, saw and conquered Vienna

An outstanding cast under Ottavio Dantone at the Theater an der Wien was headed by Lawrence Zazzo and Emőke Baráth.
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Static but worth the slog: ETO's Giulio Cesare

Conway's decision to render Handel's epic in its entirety was let down by a static staging and unnecessary repeats that masked the hidden gem-like arias.
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A stellar cast for a Handelian rarity

Ann Hallenberg shines in an amazing cast in a concert performance of Handel's Ottone in Vienna. 
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Domingo returns to La Scala in Tamerlano

Director Davide Livermore updates the plot to the period of the Russian Revolution, October 1917, a far echo of that turning point in 1403 when the Ottoman sultan Bajazet was defeated by the Tartar Timburlaine.
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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: 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 Dafne, HWV 122Arias from Oratorios and OperasAriodanteAriodante, HWV33: Dopo notteAriodante, HWV33: Scherza infidaAthaliaBlessed are they that considereth the poor, (Foundling Hospital Anthem) HWV 268Brockes Passion, HWV 48Chaconne 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 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.3 no. 4Concerto Grosso in F major, Op.6 No.2, HWV 320Concerto 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 232Donna, che in ciel, HWV 233Flavio, HWV 16: Bel ContentoFlavio, HWV 16: Rompo i lacci, e frango i dardiFuneral 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: Da tempesteGiulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Piangerò la sorte miaGiulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Svegliatevi nel coreGiustino, HWV 37:Se parla nei mio corGloria 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 46aIl trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, HWV 46a: Lascia la spinaImeneo: "Se potessero i sospir' miei"Israel in EgyptJephthaJephtha HWV 70: 'Scenes of horror, scenes of woeJoseph and his Brethren, HWV 59Judas 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: Hallelujah ChorusMessiah, HWV 56: I know that my redeemer livethMessiah, HWV 56: O thou that tellest good tidings to ZionMessiah, HWV 56: Part IMessiah, HWV 56: excerptsMi palpita il cor, HWV 132cMy 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 St Cecilia's Day, HWV 76Ode for St Cecilia's Day, HWV 76: What passion cannot Music raise and quell?Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HWV 74Organ 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, HWV 305Organ 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 combattereParnasso in festa, HWV73: Ho perso il caro benPartenopePublio Cornelio ScipioneRadamisto, HWV 12: Ombra cara di mia sposaRadamisto, HWV 12: OvertureRadamisto, HWV 12: Vile! Se mi dai vitaRadamisto, HWV 12a, bRecorder Sonata in F major, Op.1 no.11, HWV 369RinaldoRinaldo, HWV 7: Abbrugio avampo e fremoRinaldo, HWV 7: Augelletti, che cantateRinaldo, HWV 7: Lascia ch'io piangaRinaldo, HWV 7: Venti turbiniRinaldo, HWV 7: suiteRinaldo, HWV7: Cara sposaRodelinda, regina de' LangobardiRoyal Fireworks Music, HWV 351Samson, HWV 57: Let the bright SeraphimSaulSemeleSerse (Xerxes)Serse (Xerxes), HWV 40: LargoSerse (Xerxes), HWV 40: Ombra mai fùSiroe, re di Persia, HWV 24: Deggio morire, o stelleSolomonSolomon, HWV 67: Arrival of the Queen of ShebaSonata a 5 in B flat major, HWV 288Suite 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 435Suite 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 flowingThe 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: AriasTheodora, HWV 68: As with rosy stepsTolomeo, Re d'Egitto, HWV 25: Inumano fratel.... Stille amareVarious AriasWater 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