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GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL—GLOBALIST PART 1

FOR A VARIETY of reasons, the pandemic one of them, bullying nationalists another, “globalism” is almost a pejorative these days. However, reading about composer George Frideric Handel, I found a person who benefited from his era’s version of globalism. Here are tidbits about this composer gleaned from my usual Internet sleuthing. In particular, was he German? British? A composer supplying Italian opera to an enlightened Baroque Europe? 

All of the above. 

George Frideric Handel, 1685–1759, German-born, British-naturalized composer extraordinaire. Portrait, c. 1726–1728, by Balthasar Denner.

Let’s highlight Handel’s globalism by way of the towns playing roles in his life.

Halle, Duchy of Magdeburg. George Frideric was born in Halle in 1685. A special year: See NPR’s “The Class of 1685: Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti.” 

His father Georg, “conservative, steady, thrifty, unadventurous,” was a barber-surgeon serving the court of Saxe-Weissenfels and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. (Christian Ludvig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, was later to commission six Bach concerti.)

It’s part of Handel lore that, perhaps as young as six, he taught himself to play a clavichord in the attic.

Weissenfels, Saxe-Weissenfels. The town of Weissenfels was only 20 miles south of Halle, but it’s significant because of a visit in George Frideric’s youth. As recounted in Wikipedia, “Somehow Handel made his way to the court organ in the palace chapel of the Holy Trinity, where he surprised everyone with his playing.” Duke Johann Adolf I suggested to his father that George Frideric be given musical instruction.

Johann Adolf I, 1649–1697, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels-Querfurt and member of the House of Wettin.

Back in Halle. George Frideric’s formal musical education fell to Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, the organist at the Halle parish church. Indeed, Zachow was something of a musical globalist himself: He knew church music, of course, and was familiar with old-school fugues and canons. But he also knew about musical trends elsewhere in German states as well as in Italy. 

Maybe Berlin. Details of George Frideric’s youth are not littered with facts, but it’s likely he visited Berlin in 1698 as a musically precocious 13-year-old. There, the story goes, he met two Italian composers of note, Giovanni Bononcini and Attilio Ariosti. Both were musical globalists of the era, both destined to interact with Handel years later in London.

Above, Attilio Ariosti, 1666–1729, Servite Friar and Italian composer in the Baroque style, resided in Bologna, Berlin, and London. Below, Giovanni Bononcini, 1670–1747, Italian Baroque composer, resided in Rome, Vienna, Berlin, London, and Paris.

Halle University Days. In 1702, Handel entered the University of Halle, newly founded in 1694. It was a perfect choice, as both the university and Handel saw himself as “dedicated to the liberal arts.” 

It was at this time that Handel met Georg Philipp Telemann, four years his senior and, destined to be another of that era’s musical elite. (Telemann was godfather to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel.) 

Hamburg. In July 1703, Handel moved to Hamburg, a city with an established opera company. Handel’s first four operas, Almira, Nero, Daphne, and Florindo, were composed there. 

Florence. In 1706, Handel was invited to Italy by one of the de’ Medici, possibly Fernando, possibly Gian Gastone. The de’ Medici family was keen on opera, and Handel’s talents in the genre were already recognized.

At the time, Handel was only in his early 20s, just entering his globalist phase throughout Europe. Tomorrow in Part 2, there’s Handel’s Florence, Rome, Venice, Hanover, and London.

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020 

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