The master of masters

No less than Ludwig van Beethoven characterized Handel in these words and, paraphrasing an aria from his Messiah, continued: “Go and learn from him.” Beethoven would follow his own advice, using and developing a “theme in the style of Handel” in his late Consecration of the House Overture, op. 124. Haydn also learned much from Handel in writing his own oratorios, as did Mozart, who adapted Handel’s oratorios for the Viennese public. Schubert, too, would have loved to have written fugues as good as Handel’s…
In the Romantic era, people greatly resented that the son of a barber-surgeon from Halle was as great as Bach - who shares his birth year. But a dog could just as well bark at the sun.
Handel is a world phenomenon. He achieved and experienced everything possible in music, was an organist in Halle, violinist and harpsichordist at the Hamburg opera, and freelance (and ultimately unsuccessful) opera entrepreneur in London. As an organ virtuoso he had no equal.
Handel’s works reveal a unique ethos that is expressed in his comment: “I would regret if I only entertained my listeners; I wanted to make them better.”
The master, who had always admired his mother’s deep piety, passed away on a Holy Saturday - hoping, with Jesus, to be resurrected on Easter.

© Johannes Leopold Mayer, ORF - Radio Österreich 1


  • Baptized on February 23, 1685 according to the Julian calendar, still used by the Orthodox church, in Halle/Saale (March 5 according to our calendar).

  • Georg’s mother supports his musical talent - but his father is opposed to a career as a musician, and Handel enrolls at the university in 1702. Shortly afterward, however, he takes the position of organist at the Dom- und Hofkirche.

  • 1703-1707 in Hamburg. First opera Almira.

  • 1707-1710 in Italy, where he writes works in Latin for Catholic church services. Hofkapellmeister in Hanover. From here he travels to London, where he extends his vacation, later making the city his home. Initially successful with Italian operas, but then nearly goes bankrupt.

  • Financial difficulties notwithstanding, his English-language oratorios and many “anthems” for the royal court (for coronations and funerals) cement his fame.

  • His most important works: 18 Concerti grossi op. 3 and op. 6, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks, 16 concertos for organ and orchestra, suites for harpsichord, operas including Rinaldo, Rodelinda, and Xerxes with the famous Largo, oratorios including Israel in Egypt, Saul, Judas Maccabaeus, and Messiah.

  • He passed away on April 14, 1759 in London.

Did you know?

  • Handel voluntarily remained a lifelong bachelor. He was physically very large, and people called him “Mannberg” (man-mountain).

  • When he needed to complete a work more rapidly, he often made use of melodies from his earlier works, but was not averse to “borrowing” from colleagues. His justification: “Those idiots can’t do anything with a good melody anyway.”

  • He wrote his Messiah in 24 days; at the end of the score he inscribed the letters SDG (“Soli Deo Gloria” - Glory to God alone). The revenues from the premiere in Dublin were donated to charities.

  • Like Bach, he went blind as an old man. In the score of his final oratorio Jephta he wrote, “Reached here on 13 February 1751, unable to go on owing to weakening of the sight of my left eye.” And later, “23rd of this month a little better, set to work again.”

  • Writing from London, Handel corresponded with his longtime friend Georg Philipp Telemann until the end of his life - on the subject of flower-growing.

  • His grave at Westminster Abbey is decorated with a life-size likeness of the composer. Leaning on an organ, he holds the score of one of the most famous arias from Messiah in his hand: “I know that my redeemer liveth.”