MAGAZINE

Georg Friedrich Händel: a pop icon of the 18th century

Georg Friedrich Händel: un’icona pop del 1700

Every night, while the house is asleep, young Georg Friedrich gets up and sneaks up to the attic. There he hides a clandestinely obtained clavichord, and there he practises unbeknownst to anyone, self-taught learning the fundamentals of the music he will become an absolute master of. 

Just a few decades later, he will be acclaimed by audiences and play in large theatres packed with fans, but now he cannot be seen or heard: his father, Georg, has denied him his passion for music. He has already planned a future for his son as a lawyer and is willing to do anything to curb his musical ambitions. Even chopping off a finger or two, as some family friend suggests. 

But the boy pays no heed to such threats and his fingers fly brazenly over the keys. Thus begins, with an act of rebellion, the career of Georg Friedrich Händel, one of the greatest composers of all time.

His talent is unstoppable. Thanks to an excellent musical ear and an astonishing artistic temperament, Händel makes his mark as a harpsichord and pipe organ virtuoso at a very young age. He then travels, listens and learns. 

In his early twenties, he travels to Italy and befriends some of the best composers of his time, including Agostino Steffani, Antonio Caldara, Antonio Lotti, Bernardo Pasquini, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli, and from them he learns the secrets of writing for bel canto.

The artistic ferment in Rome is creative and daring. He is, too. He resolves to make a memorable name for himself: one day he enters the church of San Giovanni in Rome, sits down at the organ and begins to play it as no one has ever done before. This is the beginning of the ‘Dear Saxon’ myth, as his Italian friends call him. 

LISTEN TO CONCERTI GROSSI OP. 6 BY HÄNDEL PLAYED BY ACCADEMIA BIZANTINA

His style is instantly distinctive, unmistakable. It is said that once, during a party in Venice where he played the harpsichord with a mask over his face, Domenico Scarlatti whispered to him: “There is little doubt: either you are Händel, or you are Satan!”. A year later, the two musicians challenge each other in a musical contest ahead of its time, at Palazzo Corsini, before a jury of nobles and clergymen. The challenge ends in a tie: Scarlatti winning on harpsichord, Händel on organ.

If Rome makes him one of the most important composers of his time, it is London that will make him immortal. 
In 1711, he composes Rinaldo in just 15 days and his fame explodes: his melodious style propels him up the popularity charts among both the common people and the powerful. King George I, who already knows Händel well, having elected him ‘Kapellmeister’ in Hanover, renews his esteem and support, always turning to him for writing music for great occasions. 

By now at the height of his glory, in the European hub of publishers and music workshops, Händel writes his most famous masterpieces: Water music, Music for the Royal Fireworks, the Concerti Grossi Op. 3, with its overwhelming commercial success, the Concerti Grossi Op. 6, emblematic of his talent in the art of invention and variation, and the Messiah with the iconic “Hallelujah” chorus, among the most universally known tunes ever

LISTEN TO CONCERTI GROSSI OP. 3 BY HÄNDEL PLAYED BY ACCADEMIA BIZANTINA

As his popularity skyrockets, he decides to use it for good. His Foundling Hospital Anthem and annual performances of Messiah for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital – a children’s home in London – are among the very first instances of charity concerts in history. 

Yet Händel is a forerunner in many ways: he invented the organ and orchestra concertos, which he personally performed in the breaks between acts of his operas, taking centre stage with his overwhelming personality, like a true frontman. 

A nonconformist, ambitious, innovative in his musical inventions but also an interpreter of the soul and taste of his time, acclaimed by audiences and critics, rewarded by sales, Händel was a true pop icon of the 1700s: a successful artist during his lifetime, a true idol after his death.

Recording Händel’s Concerti Grossi Op. 3 and Op. 6 was a wonderful comeback to music and wonder. Stream them or add the CDs to your collection.  

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