George Frideric Handel

“George Frideric Handel,” Friend, Dec. 1985, 16

George Frideric Handel

For unto us a child is born, … and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).

“Father, where are you going?” George asked.

“To the court,” he was told.

“May I come too?”

“No,” his father said sternly.

George knew that his father’s word was law. But there were musicians at court, and George longed to hear them play. Father said that music was frivolous, not work for men. George must become a lawyer and forget about music. His father didn’t know that George spent hours practicing in secret on a clavier (a forerunner of the modern piano) in the attic.

But George needed to hear others play, so he decided to go to the court at Weissenfels anyway. It couldn’t be very far from his home in Halle.

He watched as his father climbed into the carriage; then, as the horse pulled it down the street, George ran behind the carriage. By the time they reached the edge of town, George’s breath was coming in great gulps, and the carriage started to pull away. The distance between George and the carriage became greater, no matter how hard he ran.

Suddenly the carriage stopped. The driver climbed down, ran to the boy, picked him up, and carried him to the carriage.

“What are you trying to do?” his father scolded him. “A seven-year-old boy cannot run as far as Weissenfels. I told you that you could not come. Why did you disobey me? You may sit with the driver, but you’ll be punished when we get home.”

When they entered the castle, George heard music. He followed the sounds to a large room where a man was playing the organ. The boy listened happily until the last note died away. “May I play?” he asked.

“Only for a minute.”

George sat on the bench and began to play. He was thrilled at the beautiful tones that filled the room. Not until he had played the last note did the man speak to him. “Who are you?” the man asked.

“George Frideric Handel,” he answered.

“You play well. How old are you, and who is your teacher?”

“I’m seven, but I don’t have a teacher. My father doesn’t want me to be a musician.”

Just then George’s father entered the room. “I’m sorry, Your Grace,” he said, “if my son has disturbed you.”

“You are the boy’s father?” the duke asked. “He tells me that he has no music teacher. Don’t you realize that he is very talented? Get him a music teacher at once, and bring him to play for me again.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” George’s father said meekly.

When they returned home, George was sent to bed in disgrace. But the very next day Father arranged for the organist of the largest church in Halle to teach George, and he was allowed to prepare for a life in music.

This year we are celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of Handel’s birth. He was born in Halle, Germany, on February 23, 1685, less than a month before the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach. Handel began his career as a composer of operas. His operas were popular, and he was famous by the time he was twenty-five years old. He traveled to England, became a naturalized English citizen, and spent the rest of his life there, except for short visits to Halle to see his mother.

Handel’s music is still loved today. Concert singers often include arias from Handel’s operas in their programs, and chamber music groups play his Water Music and his Fireworks Music.

His fame, however, rests on his development of the oratorio, a biblical story performed by a chorus, solo voices, and an orchestra. His best-loved work, Messiah, tells the story of Jesus. It is written so simply that it can be performed by amateur groups as well as professional musicians. No Christmas or Easter season goes by without a performance of this great oratorio at which people traditionally stand for its thrilling “Hallelujah” chorus.

Illustrated by Larry Winborg