George Frideric Handel by Thomas Hudson, oil on canvas, 1756.
George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) was born in Halle Germany on 23rd February 1685. The son of a barber, Handel was brought up by a non musical family. However, by the age of 12 Handel has mastered several instruments. He was appointed assistant organist at Halle Cathedral and later trained in Hamburg, favouring the violin and composed his first opera ‘Almira’ in 1704. He then travelled to Italy in order to study opera composition and it was there that he completed his sixth Opera ‘Agrippina’, in Venice. In 1710 he moved to London becoming a naturalised citizen in 1727. It was here that he composed perhaps his best known work the ‘water music’ that premiered on 17th July 1717. Handel received approval from the King and was given permission to open the Royal Academy of Music. The Academy did not last and a failed attempt at creating another one probably contributed to a stroke that Handel suffered in 1737 at the age of 52. After recovering Handel composed ‘The Dead March (from Saul)’ which would later be played at the funeral of Lord Nelson in 1806. In 1741 Handel composed his last opera ‘Deidamia’ and perhaps his most famous work ‘Messiah’.
In August 1750 on returning from a trip to Germany Handel was seriously injured in a carriage accident resulting in the loss of sight in one eye. In 1759 at the age of 74 he died at his home in Brook Street. It is widely believed that George Frederick Handel was one of the greatest composers of all time. Handel was never married and his is evident in the use of white enamel used for his mourning rings. It is also interesting to note that his monument designed by Louis Francois Roubiliac in 1738 and commissioned for the Vauxhall gardens, and now in the Victorian and Albert Museum, depicts him seated holding a lyre.