Handel, George Frederick (1685-1759)

George Frederick Handel is a German composer from the Baroque Era who is best known for his great choral work Messiah from which his famous Hallelujah Chorus comes.

Handel had a great interest in music as a child which his mother supported but his father discouraged. Handel followed his father’s wishes and enrolled in law school, but since his interest was not in law that did not last very long. He started his music career as a violinist in the local opera theater and taught private music lessons starting at the age of 18.

Handel’s interest in opera took him to Italy where he met many notable musicians of the time. Eventually those musicians talked of the music scene in London. Handel went to London in 1710 and was commissioned to compose an opera for the King’s Theater. He became the orchestra director at the Royal Academy of Music, a new Italian opera company – this was a perfect fit for Handel!

As opera became less popular in the late 1720s, the funding for opera companies dwindled and Handel grew frustrated. He eventually began composing more oratorios instead. Since an oratorio is very much like an opera musically, just without the staging and acting, it is less expensive to produce and therefore more lucrative, so the decision to switch may have been part artistic and part business. In the season of Lent during 1735, Handel produced 14 concerts of oratorios. In 1741, the well-loved Messiah was commissioned.

Listening – Flute Features

Sweet Bird

Some pieces composed in the Baroque period were imitative of sounds from nature, and the flute is often used to portray a bird. This piece by Handel for strings, voice and flute feature the flute playing quick and chirpy sounding passages to imitate bird calls. There is also a lovely duet section with the flute and voice.

Video: Sweet Bird from L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato HWV 55

Sonata in a minor

Handel composed 10 sonatas for flute – this video is the a minor sonata in a live performance by Thomas Robertello. He plays on a modern flute with piano accompaniment, but with all of the lightness and grace that you would expect from a wooden Baroque flute.

Video: Sonata in a minor, Thomas Robertello, flute

Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is part of his oratorio Solomon, but is often performed as a stand-alone piece. Originally for two oboes, this arrangement features two recorders, the predecessor of the transverse (horizontal) flute.

Video: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

The Soft Complaining Flute

The Soft Complaining Flute from Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, HWV 76 is another vocal solo with a dominant flute part, similar to the Sweet Bird above.

Video: The Soft Complaining Flute

The sheet music for The Soft Complaining Flute is public domain and can be downloaded here.

Bonus Listening

The following videos feature pieces for which Handel is quite well known.

Overture to Messiah

This video of the Overture to Handel’s Messiah is performed on period instruments, including a Baroque flute.

Video: Overture to Messiah

Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah

This video features the choir of King’s College at Cambridge performing what is likely Handel’s most well-known piece. While we are accustomed to hearing this piece performed by large orchestras and choirs, this smaller chorus and chamber orchestra is more representative of what Handel would have used.

Video: Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah

Water Music

Handel’s Water Music features dance pieces composed for King George for a concert on the river Thames. The following two videos feature Baroque dancers performing to Handel’s Water Music.

Video: Water Music

Video: Menuet from Water Music

Sheet music for the Menuet from Water Music is available at Flutetunes.com

This video performance of Water Music reminds us that we should not take ourselves too seriously. Enjoy!

Video: Air from Water Music

Royal Fireworks Music

This video from the BBC Proms features an orchestra of natural brass (no valves or keys – they change pitch by changing their mouth only), and period woodwind instruments. Royal Fireworks Music was composed for King George II to be heard on the river Thames during the fireworks display. Unfortunately bad weather caused the fireworks to not light, but the music was a big success.

Video: Royal Fireworks Music

Play Handel’s Music!

Menuet from Water Music

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