Saturday, 20 February 2016

TODAY IN MUSIC HISTORY: Georg Frideric Händel becomes British, becomes George Frederick Handel

At the beginning of the 18th century, German-born icon of the late baroque Georg Händel could arguably be called a British composer. The young 25 year old citizen of Halle would make a move to the English capital in in the years following his first visit to the country in 1710 – a move that would become a most prosperous and fateful decision for the master of the oratorio and opera.

 Georg Frideric Händel
Within two years of his first arrival at London, Händel, finding much success in England following the premieres of his operas Rinaldo and Il Pastor Fido decided the Scepter’d Isle is where he was meant to flourish to his full potential, and the iconic composer made plans to set up permanent residency in the English capital.

Händel’s official move to London in 1718 was prefaced by an assumed position at the English court via the composer’s connection to the Elector of Hanover, the German Prince George, who had appointed Georg Frideric with an aristocratic post as Kapellmeister to his court in 1710, and who was strongly favored to become the future King and founder of the House of Hanover on the throne of Great Britain – which he became, in 1714, as King George I.

King George I of Great Britain and Ireland
George I was an ardent admirer and generous patron of the prolific composer, appointing Händel ‘Composer of Musik for his Majesty’s Chappel Royal’ in 1723 and moving him into what is now the Handel House Museum - a modest house in Lower Brook Street, London, where the composer resided until his death in 1759. Händel’s compositional talents and allegiance to Britain most probably first garnered the King’s full attention in the brief span between 1711 and 1713, following the wildly successful premieres of Händel’s opera Rinaldo in 1711, Il pastor Fido, and Teseo in 1713; and later that same year, the stalwart German boldly composed an Ode for the Queen’s Birthday (the queen at the time, being British: Queen Anne of England) and the Utrecht Te Deum. Queen Anne, being no lover of music, was reportedly so bowled over by the honor bestowed upon her by Händel, she granted the composer an annual generous allowance of £200. Upon her death the following year and the succession of the Elector George to the British throne, Georg Frideric had already sealed the deal for a position at court. He would become director of music to James Brydges, 1st duke of Chandos, under whose patronage the composer would begin his foray into the creation of the English oratorio, and, by 1723, Händel would become composer of music for the King's Chapel Royal.
Händel’s influence on the classical music sphere was incalculable. Ever attuned to the needs of the British, Georg Frideric, at the height of his career, would shape his compositional oeuvre to answer to the social demands of the day, creating large scale choral works and oratorio (the most famous of which is the Messiah, from which the wildly popular Hallelujah Chorus draws it’s home) that were specifically British (such as in the case of the secular oratorio Dettingen Te Deum, which celebrated English victory over the ever troublesome French at the battle of Dettingen) and sensitively democratic (appealing to the oft-ignored religious middle classes who had grown tired of Italian works and their frequent bans
, often campy and fantastical story lines and foreign tongue)

By presenting librettos in the English language, Händel was systematically setting in motion a small class warfare of sorts by elevating the middle classes from textual obscurity by presenting them with both a language and subject matter which they not only freely understood, but which they also could instill in themselves a sense of English pride by sharing the contents of the libretti - which showcased their beliefs, their victories - with other potential fans and patrons. Indeed, it was a win-win situation for both composer and audience. 

Händel's prestigious masterpiece, Music for the Royal Fireworks, commissioned by King George II in 1749 for an all night celebration of the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle - disaster aside (there was a sizable fire caused by explosion in one of the pavilions that would leave at least three persons dead) - was most celebrated throughout posterity, and his royal coronation anthem Zadok the Priest continues to be the royal anthem for any and all succeeding British monarchs.

View of the display at London's Green Park on the occasion of the premiere for Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks.

These were just but the tip of the monumental mountain of artistic refinement the former German brought to England – and none of it would have been possible were it not for the events that occurred on this day of the 20th of February in 1727, just prior to the death of King George I and the succession of his son, King George II. It was on this day nearly 300 years ago that Georg Frideric[1] Händel, citizen of Germany became George Frederick Handel, naturalized British subject, exactly one week after applying for citizenship to the land, which, to Händel, had already become home. This would be a necessary step for the foreign-born composer to obtain and secure his status as a true Briton, and one in which the ailing George I fully supported, granting George Frederick Handel royal assent exactly 279 years ago today, ensuring the now British subject would continue on as Composer of the Chapel Royal, and of the hearts and ears of generations to come.

THE MOST CELEBRATED THREE: Hallelujah, from Messiah; Zadok the Priest, coronation anthem to King George II (and every British monarch since); and Music for the Royal Fireworks, in celebration of the ending of the War of the Austrian Succession by the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1729.

                   Hallelujah Chorus                              Zadok the Priest                       Music for the Royal Fireworks

[1]Some contemporary reports use the Friedrich spelling. This was not at all unusual for the period. For many centuries previous, surnames (or in this instance, middle names) were spelled phonetically, and, as a result, one can often find vast and varied spellings of the same name and individual. This method of sounding out a name would often affect even one's forename.


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