George Handel (1685-1759) was born to Georg Handel (1622-97) and Dorothea Taust (1651-1730). Handel’s father, Georg, was a barber-surgeon for the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels; his mother was the daughter of a pastor.
Because Handel’s father wanted him to become a lawyer, Georg prevented Handel from playing any musical instruments. However, Handel managed to sneak past his father’s command by playing the hidden clavichord in the attic. At the age of 9, the Duke heard Handel playing the organ and convinced Georg to let Handel study music under Friedrich Zachow. When Handel was just 12, his father died leaving Handel as the “man of the household.”
Perhaps just in case Handel’s musical career was not as successful as he hoped it would be, records show that Handel had, in fact, enrolled into Halle University in 1702. A month later, Handel was appointed organist at the Calvinist Cathedral, but after one year, his contract was not renewed. Handel decided that he would follow his musical dreams and shortly thereafter, he left Halle for Hamburg.
In Hamburg, Handel played violin and harpsichord for the only opera company in Germany that existed outside the royal courts, and also taught private lessons. Handel wrote his first opera, Almira in 1704. In 1706, Handel moved to Italy, where he gained a wealth of knowledge on setting Italian lyrics to voice. In 1710, he was appointed Kapellmeister at Hanover, but soon took leave to London. Then, in 1719, he became musical director of the Royal Academy of Music.
Much of Handel’s time during the 1720’s and 30’s was spent composing operas. However, he still found time to compose many other works. During the last few years of the 1730’s, Handels operas were not as successful. Afraid of his future success, he responded by focusing more on oratorio. In 1741, Handel composed the wildly successful Messiah which was originally sung by a choir of 16 and an orchestra of 40. He left to Dublin for the premiere of the piece.
During the last ten years of Handel’s life, he regularly performed his Messiah. Because of its success, he returned to London and with a new found confidence he composed Samson along with many others. Before his death, Handel had lost his vision due to cataracts. He died on April 14, 1759. He was buried at Westminster Abbey, and it was said that over 3,000 people attended his funeral.