George Frederick Handel
THE WONDER CHILD
[Music: (The Messiah.) He shall feed His flock like a shepherd.]
It is a bright, sunshiny morning. In an old town in Germany a coach
stands waiting before the door of a surgeon's house. The horses are
impatient to begin the journey. They toss their heads and paw the
ground. The driver speaks sharply, trying to quiet them.
Presently the house door opens. An old gentleman comes out and seats
himself in the carriage. He waves his hand and calls good-by to a little
boy on the steps. The coach door slams and the horses are off.
For a moment the child gazes through his tears at the departing
carriage. Then, with a bound, he is off as fast as his sturdy little
legs will carry him. The boy does not seem to mind the heat and the dust
as long as he can keep the carriage in sight.
When the first stop is made, the boy appears before his father. "Why are
you here, my son? Did I not bid you remain at home?" "Oh, father,"
pleads the boy, "I want so much to see the castle. Do take me with you!"
The child is so earnest and promises so faithfully to be good that the
father places him on the broad seat beside him and away they go. Through
streets and lanes and highways, from one town to another, they journey
on, until they come to the wonderful palace of the duke.
The surgeon has come this long distance to visit his grandson, who is a
servant in the palace. The travelers intend to remain in the castle
The child became a favorite in the duke's household. He made friends
with the members of the duke's choir, who allowed him to go to chapel
with them. Sometimes they lifted him on the organ bench and bade him
One Sunday afternoon, when he was playing, some people entered the
chapel. Among them was the duke, the owner of the castle. The child paid
no heed to the duke and his friends, but went on with his playing. "Who
is making such sweet music?" said the duke. When he had gone a few steps
farther, he saw before the organ a boy but seven years of age. He called
the child to him and said, "What is your name, little one?" "I am
George Frederick Handel," answered the boy, trembling.
The duke spoke kindly to the little fellow, soon winning from him his
secret. The lad told his new friend how dearly he loved to play and how
much he should like to study music. He finished by saying that his
father would not allow him to spend his time in that way.
The duke filled the little musician's pockets with shining gold pieces
and called the father. He urged the surgeon to allow his son to study
music. For a long time the two men talked together. At last the surgeon
said that a teacher should be found for the boy as soon as they reached
George Frederick Handel was born in Germany, in 1685, on the 23d of
February. Although the weather was cold and stormy, the babe was carried
the very next day to the church and there baptized. According to the
Lutheran custom, the child had a godmother and two godfathers.
When he was still very young, the parents of the child noticed that he
was fond of music. Little George Frederick liked toys that made a noise.
His friends made him presents of drums and horns. He learned to play a
Jew's-harp and a flute.
At first, the father laughed at the childish music. When he saw that
the boy cared for nothing else, he said that he wished to hear no more
music in the house. Indeed, he would not even allow George Frederick to
go to any house where music could be heard. The old surgeon wished his
son to become a lawyer.
Although music was forbidden, George Frederick loved it more than ever.
Every day the chimes in a neighboring church gladdened his heart.
Several times each week he heard sacred music sung from the church
The chimes and the tower music were a great comfort to little Handel.
About this time, too, he was made happy by having a spinet of his own.
With the help of his nurse, he hid his instrument in the garret.
A spinet is somewhat like a piano. The wires of little Handel's spinet
were wound with cloth. This so deadened the sound that his father could
not hear it. George Frederick spent much time in the garret, and often
went there to practice when every one else in the house was fast asleep.
All this happened before the visit to the duke's castle. When he
returned, his father kept the promise made to the duke by choosing a
teacher for the boy. George Frederick and his teacher soon became the
best of friends. The lad worked hard, and at the end of three years
could play the organ, violin, and harpsichord.
Young Handel's teacher was a church organist. When he went away, he
often allowed the boy to take his place. The boy improved so rapidly
that at length his master declared he could teach him no more.
Little Handel had many studies besides his music. Although his father
had allowed the boy to study music, he still wished him to become a
lawyer. He was greatly pleased when he saw how earnestly the lad worked
at his Latin and mathematics.
George Frederick began to compose when he was only ten years old. After
his master had said he could teach him no more, young Handel continued
his studies. He learned much by copying works from the old masters.
In 1696 George Frederick took a long journey, going with some friends to
Berlin. The prince and princess invited the wonder child to the court
because they liked music. The child surprised and delighted all who
heard him play. "How long have you been studying that you have learned
to play so well?" asked the prince. "For three years," replied the lad,
"and I have the kindest teacher in all Germany."
In the great German capital little Handel met many famous musicians, one
of whom was an Italian monk. His own father could not have been kinder
to the child than was this priest. He took delight in teaching the boy
and listened to his playing by the hour.
The prince was proud to count the little musician as his friend. He
wrote to Handel's father, saying: "I am willing to send your son to
Italy at my own expense. There he shall have the very best teachers."
The surgeon was delighted that George Frederick had so pleased the
prince. He thanked him for his kindness, but said, "I am now an old man
and can not spare my boy."
Soon after this, young Handel returned to his native town. He had not
been long at home when his father died. Remembering his father's wish,
the boy studied law until he was seventeen.
While Handel was studying law at the university, he was organist in a
large church. So well did he perform his duties that he became famous
for his music. Strangers were glad to be in the town over Sunday, that
they might hear him play.
HANDEL'S EARLY WORK
In 1703 Handel decided that music should be his life study and work. He
left the university and went to Hamburg. There he obtained a position in
an orchestra. It was a poor place, and he was paid very little. The
other members of the orchestra never suspected that he could fill a
One day the leader of the orchestra was absent. The musicians planned to
play a joke upon Handel. "Come," said they to him, "you lead the
orchestra to-day." They laughed merrily among themselves as he took his
place. "Now we shall have some fun," they said to one another. Imagine
their surprise when Handel conducted the orchestra even better than the
leader could have done.
While Handel was in Hamburg, he wrote four operas. Although he was not
well paid for the work, he saved some money. He was very generous, and
took great pleasure in sending Christmas gifts to his mother.
After two years of hard work in Hamburg, Handel had laid aside enough
money to take him to Italy. In 1706 he said good-by to his friends and
set off on his journey across the Alps. For three years he lived under
the blue Italian skies. During that time he learned to speak the
language of the country. He worked hard and wrote opera after opera.
In Florence his first Italian opera was given. It was listened to with
the greatest delight. The grand duke was so much pleased that he
presented Handel with a hundred pieces of money and many other valuable
From fair Florence, the young musician went to Venice, the city of
bridges and gondolas. The Venetians soon grew to be as fond of him as
the Florentines had been. They spoke of him as the "dear Saxon," because
he came from that part of Germany which is called Saxony.
One evening Handel was invited to a masquerade. He planned to disguise
himself so that no one should know him. He might have succeeded had it
not been for one thing. He went to the masquerade, and for some time not
a single person knew him in his strange costume. Finally he seated
himself at the harpsichord, the room becoming quiet as he played. Some
one was heard to exclaim: "None but the great Saxon could play like
that! It is Handel!"
Whenever his operas were sung in Venice, the theater was packed. One
night every seat was filled. The audience was eager for the music to
begin. At the end of the first act there was a storm of applause.
During the remainder of the opera, at every little pause in the music,
the building rang with shouts of, "Long live the good Saxon!"
In the spring of 1710 Handel returned to Germany. He paid a visit to his
mother, but did not stay long. In Italy he had made many English friends
who invited him to visit London. It was about the beginning of December
when he crossed the sea to England. Little did he dream that the
remainder of his life would be spent on English soil.
HANDEL IN ENGLAND
[Music: (Handel's Largo.) Father in heaven, Thy children hear.]
Handel was twenty-five years old when he went to England. He had not
been there long before he composed an opera. The music of this opera
became very popular. Often when friends met on the street, they said,
"Have you heard Handel's opera?" Soon it was hummed and whistled
Long ago, the river Thames was well loved by the kings and queens of
England. When they wished to spend a pleasant holiday, nothing was so
enjoyable as a sail down the river.
One fine morning in August, King George and his family returned to
London after a pleasant day spent on the water. The people had seen the
royal boats floating past in the morning and were ready to welcome their
king on his return. They built big bonfires on the banks of the river.
From time to time salutes were fired. The people crowded the bridges and
banks to see the royal procession.
Soon the boats of the king came in sight. How the banners waved and how
the flags fluttered in the breeze! How the water splashed as the oars
rose and fell! "That must be the king's own boat that we see yonder!"
shouted the people. "Yes, there is the king under that crimson canopy!"
But hark! the sound of music comes floating gently across the water. How
soft is the melody in the still night air! Whence come those sweet
Not far from the royal barge are several boats filled with musicians. In
one of the boats stands a young man, the leader of the musicians. He
must have trained them well, for the fine music attracts the attention
of the king.
"Who is the leader of the musicians?" asks the king of one of the
gentlemen near him. "It is Handel, your Majesty," replies the courtier.
"And did he compose the music which we now hear?" asks the king. "Yes,
your Majesty," is the reply.
The people on the banks of the river become quiet as one piece of
beautiful music after another is heard. King George thinks that each is
better than the one that preceded it. At last, when the royal barge is
no longer in sight, the sweet sounds die away.
The next day the king invited Handel to the court and asked him to
become the teacher of the young princess. He also promised the composer
that he should receive two hundred pounds sterling every year. It was
not unusual in those days for a king to settle a sum of money upon a
poet or musician.
One day Handel walked out into the country. He was caught in a shower
and found shelter in a blacksmith's shop. The jolly old smith was
singing at his work and beating a tune upon the anvil as he sang. The
composer caught the clanging music of the hammer on the anvil. When he
went home, Handel put the tones that he had heard into some music, which
he called The Jolly Blacksmith.
By the year 1726 the composer was so much pleased with England that he
decided to live there. He sometimes went back to Germany to visit; but
England was his home.
During the first years that Handel lived in London, he composed many
operas. Great crowds of people went to hear them sung; sometimes twenty
dollars was paid for one seat. Sometimes hundreds of people were turned
away from the theater. King George and Queen Caroline often attended the
operas. That was a great honor for Handel.
It is not as a composer of operas that George Frederick Handel is
remembered to-day. Indeed, if he had written nothing but operas, we
should hear little of him now. In 1741 he composed an oratorio more
beautiful than any other that has ever been written. It is called The
Messiah. If Handel had written nothing but this one oratorio, his name
would live forever.
The music was composed in twenty-four days. The Messiah means The
Christ. The words which are sung to Handel's music are taken from the
Bible. The music is so wonderfully written that one scarcely needs the
words to know the story.
While Handel was composing the music of The Messiah, he thought much
of the life of Christ. His heart was filled with sorrow when he thought
how He was crucified. The words of one of the solos speak of Christ as
"a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." When Handel was writing
the music for these words, a friend, coming in, found him in tears.
Some one once asked Handel how he could write such beautiful music. He
replied, "While I was writing The Messiah, I did think I saw all
heaven before me and the great God himself."
There are many choruses in The Messiah. The one best liked is the
Hallelujah Chorus. When The Messiah was first sung in London, the
king was present. He listened in silence to the wonderful music. When
the Hallelujah Chorus was reached, he rose and stood with bowed head.
The whole audience followed his example. This has now become a custom.
Whenever and wherever The Messiah is sung, the people rise and remain
standing until the last Hallelujah has died away.
Handel was fifty-six years old when he wrote The Messiah. The
remaining eighteen years of his life were filled with work. He wrote
many other oratorios. In the year 1752 the master musician became blind.
In spite of his blindness, he worked on, dictating many pieces of music,
while some one wrote for him.
His misfortune did not make Handel sad. He was still cheerful and happy,
and was never heard to complain. Until the end of his life he carried on
George Frederick Handel died in London in 1759, and was laid to rest in
the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Now the soft light from the
great rose window falls gently upon a marble statue of the musician.
The statue represents Handel standing and looking upward. Upon the
marble table beside him is carved a sheet of music from The Messiah.
Here may be seen the words of one of the most beautiful parts of the