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Handel, George Frideric (1685-1759)

George Frideric Handel

born: 23 February 1685
died: 14 April 1759
country: United Kingdom

The young Handel’s genius was matched by the energy and acumen with which he pursued his own professional interests. During his triumphant Italian sojourn from late 1706 to early 1710, ‘Il caro Sassone’, as he was dubbed, had cultivated the support of a raft of wealthy, influential patrons. Such was his international prestige at the age of twenty-five that in June 1710 he landed the post of Kapellmeister to Georg, Elector of Hanover, on terms so favourable as to stretch credulity: a generous salary, plus ‘leave to be absent for a 12-month or more if he chose it, and to go whithersoever he please’. Four months later, lured by the new-found craze for Italian opera, it pleased him to travel to London, then a seething city of nearly a million inhabitants.

After the triumphant first run of his first London opera Rinaldo, premiered at the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, in February 1711, Handel departed, reluctantly, for Hanover. But he had already resolved to return to London. The pliant elector gave him permission to make the trip in September 1712 ‘on condition that he engaged to return within a reasonable time’. He never did, though as Georg knew he would succeed the ailing Queen Anne on the British throne (she died in August 1714), his Kapellmeister’s breach of contract was less reprehensible than might first appear. With his access to the most influential circles, Handel may even have been a useful source of information to the future George I.

A contemporary commentator noted: ‘His return to London was hailed by the musical world as a national acquisition, and every measure was adopted to make his abode pleasant and permanent.’ Indeed it was. In the autumn of 1712, the twenty-seven-year-old composer made London his home, staying first at Barn Elms (present-day Barnes), then at Burlington House in Piccadilly, the luxurious mansion of one of his aristocratic patrons, Lord Burlington. He quickly became the de facto resident composer of the Haymarket opera company, and a court ‘insider’. The following year Queen Anne granted him an annual pension of £200, an arrangement continued by George I. Long before he took British citizenship in 1727, Handel was being acclaimed as ‘the Orpheus of our Century’, and Henry Purcell’s undisputed successor as Britain’s national composer.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2014

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