George Frideric Handel (German: Georg Friedrich Händel; 23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759) was a German-born, British Baroque composer famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. Born in a family indifferent to music, Handel received critical training in Halle, Hamburg and Italy before settling in London (1712), and became a naturalized British subject in 1727. He was strongly influenced both by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition.
Within fifteen years, Handel had started three commercial opera companies to supply the English nobility with Italian opera. Musicologist Winton Dean writes that his operas show that "Handel was not only a great composer; he was a dramatic genius of the first order." As Alexander's Feast (1736) was well received, Handel made a transition to English choral works. After his success with Messiah (1742) he never performed an Italian opera again. It has been said that the passion of Handel's oratorios is an ethical one, and that they are hallowed not by liturgical dignity but by moral ideals of humanity. Almost blind, and having lived in England for nearly fifty years, he died in 1759, a respected and rich man. His funeral was given full state honours, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Handel is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, with works such as Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks and Messiah remaining popular. One of his four Coronation Anthems, Zadok the Priest (1727), composed for the coronation of George II of Great Britain, has been performed at every subsequent British coronation, traditionally during the sovereign's anointing. Handel composed more than forty operas in over thirty years, and since the late 1960s, with the revival of baroque music and historically informed musical performance, interest in Handel's operas has grown.
Links To Peel
On Peeling Back The Years, Peel described the feeling when hearing Handel's 'Zadok The Priest':
" I have a lump in my throat when they get to that swelling bit just before they come in with the shrieking. And it affected me, it still affects me, Zadok The Priest."
The track 'Zadok The Priest' had some great meaning to Peel, as the anthem was used at every British monarch's coronation including King George VI, who Peel admired due to his struggle against stammer and shyness. When Peel appeared on Desert Island Discs in 1990, he described why he chose 'Zadok The Priest' as his first record:
"It would be Zadok the Priest as recorded at the coronation of George VI. Somebody in my study at school - you were moved around as a junior boy from study to study and each term and obviously hoped that you didn't fall in with some of the more disagreeable of the house - and one chap had a complete recording of the coronation of George VI. He was a man I much admired, mainly because of the way he overcame his stammer and his shyness, and his speech in 1941, 'A man stood at the gate of the year', I regard as one of the great recordings of all time, but this seldom fails to move me to tears."Apart from 'Zadok The Priest', there is no evidence that Peel generally liked Handel's other musical outputs.
- 14 August 1982: Zadok The Priest
- Peeling Back The Years: Zadok The Priest
- Desert Island Discs: Zadok The Priest