George Frideric Handel is regarded as one of the finest composers of the baroque era, and wrote some of the best-known and most widely performed works of classical music, including Messiah, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Zadok the Priest, written as one of the four Coronation Anthems for George II, has been performed at every British coronation since.
He was born in Halle, Germany in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Handel showed musical promise from an early age, and had organ and composition lessons. Following his father’s death he moved to Hamburg, where he wrote his first opera Almira in 1705. A year later, he began a grand tour around Italy, where he composed for patrons in Florence, Rome, Venice and Naples, including his sacred works Dixit Dominus and La Resurrezione and his opera Agrippina, and met many Italian composers who were to have a significant influence on his work.
In 1710 Handel was appointed Kapellmeister (Master of Music) to the Elector of Hanover, who later became George I. In the same year he visited London for the first time and by 1712 had decided to make his permanent home there after the success of his opera Rinaldo. In 1719 he became musical director of the newly formed Royal Academy, founded by aristocratic patrons to satisfy their growing appetite for Italian opera. Handel went on to write Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda for the company.
In 1723 Handel moved to Brook Street in Mayfair, where he lived for the rest of his life. He had become a key figure in the musical life of the nation, with a coterie of influential patrons, including members of the royal family, and was naturalised as a British citizen by Act of Parliament in 1727.
In the latter part of his life, Handel had many setbacks, both financial and with his health, but managed to recover each time and astound his audiences with his compositional innovation. As popular tastes for Italian opera waned in the 1730s, Handel began to write music set to English text, producing many great works including Acis and Galatea, Saul and Israel in Egypt. He started the great tradition of the English oratorio, the most famous example being his Messiah, composed in just 24 days, first performed in 1742 and still sung all over the world, especially at Christmas and Easter.
Handel died in 1759 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. He has left us a glorious legacy of music, but he was also a great philanthropist, writing and performing music specifically to benefit many charitable causes, most notably the Foundling Hospital. Furthermore, he nurtured countless young singers in his lifetime, a tradition we uphold through the annual Handel Singing Competition.