George Frideric Handel

April 2021

George Frideric Handel

Part 1

Do you remember the famous composer Johan Sebastian Bach? Do you know any other extremely famous composers born in the same year as Bach? George Handel was also born in 1685!

To start the month, let's listen to something that I'm SURE you've heard before. Did you know that this famous "Hallelujah Chorus" is just a small part of a piece of music called "The Messiah"? A full performance lasts almost 2 1/2 hours, but this short chorus is definitely the most famous part!

This piece is often performed around Easter, which is on April 4th this year!

Part 2

Handel was born in what is now Germany (that's why you sometimes see his named spelled the German way: Georg Friedrich Händel), but he eventually lived in England. He became very popular.... so popular that the King of England asked him to write music for royal events!

Handel wrote his famous "Water Music" to please the king, and the first performance took place on a boat floating along the Thames River in London! Can you imagine performing this music on a boat, rocking back and forth?!

Part 3

Handel is considered to be one of the greatest composers of operas. In fact, he composed over 40 operas!!

During Handel's time, some of the most popular singers were men with extremely high voices. It is unusual now to hear men sing so high, but it is still possible!

This aria ("aria" is an Italian word used to describe a single "song" in an opera) is from Handel's opera "Serse." The words are in Italian, but it is basically a love song to a tree!

"Tender and beautiful fronds

of my beloved plane tree,

let Fate smile upon you.

May thunder, lightning, and storms

never disturb your dear peace,

nor may you by blowing winds be profaned"

Is it odd to hear a man sing so high?!

Part 4

Handel was a very talented keyboard player. Remember: the piano didn't exist yet when Handel was born, so he wrote his keyboard music for other instruments like the harpsichord or organ.

A keyboard suite is a group of short pieces for keyboard that is usually played all in a row. Each piece in the suite is in the style of a popular dance from the Baroque era (the 1600s and early 1700s).

This particular performer is playing this Keyboard Suite in D minor on a clavichord. Clavichords were very popular instruments for several hundred years until harpsichords and pianos became more popular. What do you notice about a clavichord that is different than a piano?!

This video is about 10 minutes long. Feel free to listen to just the first movement (up until about 2:45 in the video) if you are short on time!

Part 5

One of Handel's "Greatest Hits" is another aria from a different opera. "Lascia ch'io pianga" means "Let me weep." Take a listen to the music and think about whether or not you need to understand the Italian words to know that this song is filled with sad emotions.... What about this music makes it sound sad? Is there any part of the music that sounds happy?

I love this music video featuring the amazing American soprano Joyce DiDonato. Does the end of this video do anything to change the emotions we feel through the music?

Part 6

Have you ever been to a fireworks show? At celebrations like "New Year's at the Needle," the fireworks are organized to line up or be choreographed to music.

Fireworks have been around for hundreds of years, so what would they have listened to in the days before recorded music?

Well, if you were King George II of England, you would ask Mr. Handel to write music for your fireworks show!

This video features a small portion of Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks," performed here at a beautiful French Chateau. The original performance would have been heard by thousands of people in a park in London, but this French video captures the royal mood that must have been present at the first performance of this music in 1749.

Do you think the music would have been loud enough to have been heard over the sound of the fireworks?!

Thanks for learning about Handel!

Next time you hear the Hallelujah Chorus, remember the famous composer who created this music!