"Handel is the greatest composer who ever lived.
I would bare my head and kneel at his grave"
-- Ludwig van Beethoven (1824)
Painting of Handel by Balthasar Denner
George Frederic Handel, unquestionably one of the greatest musicians the world has ever known, was born at Halle on February
In 1703 Handel moved to Hamburg, where he obtained a position as a back desk violinist at the
opera. By the next season, at age nineteen, he had become conductor, leading productions from
the harpsichord, and had an increasing influence on the artistic direction of the company. It was in
Hamburg that he composed his first four operas, two of which were premiered a month apart in
1705. The first, Almira, was a modest success with twenty performances that year. Handel
finally left the opera in 1706 when it became apparent that he would not be appointed music
director. Handel's meteoric rise at the Hamburg opera was typical of his career. He not only
created a musical sensation wherever he was but he also had an uncanny ability to make
influential social connections. He was a polished and impeccably mannered gentleman who spoke
four languages fluently and was completely at ease with the highest nobility. (His legendary
irascibility was evidently reserved for his fellow musicians.)
Handel had made the acquaintance of the Grand Duke of Tuscany while in Hamburg, and the
Duke had suggested a visit to Italy. Handel's four years in Italy had a profound influence on his
music. Italy was then the musical capital of Europe, and Handel threw himself wholeheartedly
into the whirlwind of musical life. He amazed all who heard him play the organ or harpsichord not
only for his technical virtuosity but also for his extraordinary improvisational abilities, and
supposedly once bested Domenico Scarlatti in an impromptu competition. He composed a great
deal of music for the voice, including operas, sacred music and numerous cantatas. More
importantly, he became acquainted with the Italian oratorio.
Italian oratorio had become a sort of surrogate for opera, especially in Rome where opera
performances were periodically banned by the Pope. It was a sacred drama, with recognizable
characters and a dramatic story line, and generally presented in a staged manner, with scenery,
costumes and stage business. There was no chorus, but there were ensemble numbers for the
In May 1707 Handel was employed by Prince Francesco Maria Ruspoli and performed and composed in Rome, in the Ruspoli Castle in Vignanello where he composed many sacred concerts and performed his Salve Regina (HWV 241) in the castle's private chapel, and in the Ruspoli Palace in Cerveteri where he composed and performed his Diana Cacciatrice (HWV 79).
During this period Handel wrote two oratorios which were privately performed
with much success. Private did not necessarily mean small, and the performance
of La Resurrezione (HWV 47), written under the patronage of Prince Ruspoli, was truly an impressive event,
with costly scenery, a huge orchestra led by Arcangelo Corelli, the most influential violinist of the time, for whom Handel wrote an
extensive solo violin part, and the printing of 1500 libretti.
Corelliís impassioned playing and refined
Apollonian style of composition became the ideal for violinists throughout the eighteenth century.
In 1709 after Handel departed for Venice and subsequently for London. To captivate his new audience, Handel wrote a splendid
score, re-using former works mixed with new material : Rinaldo . With one
single performance, he had made the conquest of the British public.
In that same year Prince Ruspoli appointed Antonio Caldara as his "Maestro di Cappella"