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Guide to George Frideric Handel: Concerts and Reviews

May 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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HalleOfficial Opening of the Handel Festival

Handel: Jephtha
Christoph Spering; Tatjana Gürbaca; Oper Halle; Stefan Heyne; Silke Willrett; Ines Lex; Svitlana Slyvia


Handel: Lotario
Laurence Cummings; Carlos Wagner; Rifail Ajdarpasic; Ariane Isabel Unfried; Marie Lys; Sophie Rennert

HalleCarillon Concert

Pezel, Pachelbel, Finger, Handel
Frank Deleu, Carillon

LondonAfternoon Tea with Live Opera - Kieran Rayner

Handel, Donizetti, Mozart, Thomas
Kieran Rayner, Baritone

Bad LauchstädtAcis and Galatea

Handel: Acis and Galatea
Jana Semerádová; Vit Brukner; Marionettentheatercompany Buchty a Loutky; Barbora Čechová; Radka Mizerová; Sophie Junker; Benedikt Kristjánsson
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Dramatic cantatas from Franziska Gottwald

Franziska Gottwald's superb mezzo voice and technique combined with dedicated commitment to text makes for a satisfying concert at Rosdorf near Göttingen during the Handel festival
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Progetto Handel

Teatro alla Scala ballet is definitely on the rise. Bigonzetti creates Progetto Händel on Zakharova and Bolle, prompting a standing ovation of almost 20 minutes  
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Handel's Lotario a hit at Göttingen

Handel's Opera Lotario is the centrepiece for this year's Göttingen Handel festival, receiving warm acclaim on its opening night.
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Handel on tour: The English Concert's star-studded Ariodante reaches London's Barbican

A probing, exultant and musically tireless performance from The English COncert.
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Israel in Egypt in Göttingen

Israel in Egypt in this year's Handel Festival in Göttingen provided a somewhat rare opportunity to hear the whole three parts.
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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 tormentateAgrippina: overtureAlcinaAlcina, HWV 34: Tornami a vagheggiarAlessandro, HWV 21: Aure, fonti, ombre graditeAlessandro, HWV 21: Brilla nell' alma un non inteso ancorAlessandro, HWV 21: Solitudine amate in cui sfogarmilive una flamma infeliceArias from Oratorios and OperasArienAriodanteAriodante, HWV33: Dopo notteAriodante, HWV33: Scherza infidaChaconne in G minor, HWV 486Chandos 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 D minor, Op.6 No.10, HWV 328Concerto Grosso in G major, Op.6 no.1, HWV 319Concerto a due cori in F major, no. 3, HWV 334Concerto grosso in g-Moll, Op.6 no.6Conservate, raddoppiate, HWV 185Deborah, HWV 51Die verwandelte DaphneDixit Dominus in G minor, HWV 232Esther, HWV 50bFugue in A minor, HWV 609Fugue in C minor, HWV 610Fugue in G major, HWV 606Giulio 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: Svegliatevi nel coreGiustinoGloria in excelsis deo, HWV 245Handel Project (Progetto Händel)Harpsichord SuitesIsrael in EgyptJephthaJephtha HWV 70: 'Scenes of horror, scenes of woeJoseph and his Brethren, HWV 59L'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 259LotarioMeine Seele hört im sehen HWV 207MessiahMessiah HWV56: Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of ZionMessiah, HWV 56: Hallelujah ChorusNo, di voi non vo' fidarmi, HWV 189, HWV 190Oboe Concerto no. 3 in G minor, HWV 287Ode for St Cecilia's Day, HWV 76Organ Concerto in D minor, HWV 304Organ 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 291OrlandoRadamisto, HWV 12a, bRecorder Sonata in F major, Op.1 no.11, HWV 369Riccardo Primo, re d'Inghilterra, HWV 23: Il VoloRinaldoRinaldo, HWV 7: Augelletti, che cantateRinaldo, HWV 7: Lascia ch'io piangaRinaldo, HWV 7: Sulla ruota di fortunaRodelinda, regina de' LangobardiRoyal Fireworks Music, HWV 351Royal Fireworks Music, HWV 351: excerptsSamsonSamson, 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 432Susanna, HWV 66: Crystal streams in murmurs flowingSüsse Stille, sanfte Quelle ruhiger Gelassenheit HWV 205TamerlanoTerpsichoreThe King shall rejoice; Coronation Anthem No. 2, HWV 260The Occasional Oratorio: OvertureTheodora, HWV 68: As with rosy stepsUn' alma innamorata, HWV 173Water 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, HWV 258: God save the KingZadok the priest; Coronation Anthem No. 1, HWV 258