Georg Friederich Händel (1685-1759) was born in Halle, in what is now Sachsen (Saxony), Germany. Though he showed interest in music as a child, his father wanted him to study law. His mother, however, encouraged his musical inclinations. While still young, Georg had an opportunity to play the organ at the court of the duke of Weissenfels. There he met composer and organist Frideric Wilhelm Zachow, who invited him to study music with him. By age 11, he was composing church cantatas and chamber music.
When it was time to go to university, Georg started out in the law program to please his father, but he soon dropped out to devote himself to his music full time. He accepted a position as a violinist and harpsichordist at Hamburg’s Oper am Gänsemarkt. He supplemented his income by teaching private music lessons.
He began writing operas, and as he experienced success in that form, decided to travel to Italy. Composing and performing there for three years, he socialized with many prominent musicians, some of whom talked about the London music scene. Fascinated, he traveled to London in 1710, and received a commission to compose an opera for the King’s Theatre. Two weeks later, he delivered Rinaldo, which earned him widespread recognition.
In 1717, King George I of England requested a concert on the Thames. Handel complied with the Water Music, a collection of three orchestral suites, which was performed three times that year and remains a concert favorite to this day.
In 1719, he became Master of the Orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music, which specialized in Italian operas.
He eventually decided he would never leave England, and became a citizen in 1726, at which point he anglicized his name.
In 1727, Handel broke away from the Royal Academy and founded the New Royal Academy of Music, where he wrote two new operas per season for the next decade. All told, he wrote almost 50 operas. But when Italian operas fell out of fashion with audiences, Handel looked for something new.
His next focus was oratorios. Since they didn’t require costumes and sets, they were much more economical to produce, and they became the new craze in London. Handel even revised Italian operas into the new format, translating them into English. He wrote 30 oratorios in all.
In 1747, King George II (son of King George I) requested music for a celebration in honor of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of Austrian Succession. Handel delivered Music for the Royal Fireworks, a suite in D Major for wind instruments.
The piece of music which Handel is most famous for is his oratorio The Messiah. The story of this inspiring composition can be found here.