Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Georg Friedrich Handel

Music History Monday: Hallelujah!

We mark the first performance on April 13, 1742 – 278 years ago today – of George Frederick Handel’s Messiah in Dublin, Ireland. Messiah is not just Handel’s most famous work, but one of a handful of “most famous works” in the entire Western musical repertoire. According to the American musicologist Joseph Kerman, Messiah is: “the only composition from the Baroque Era that has been performed continuously – and frequently – since its first appearance.” (I typically take comments like that one – even from someone as unimpeachable as Joseph Kerman – as a challenge. But having thought about it, I’ve concluded that Kerman is correct; Messiah is a singular work, one with an unbroken track record of frequent performances since its premiere, something we cannot say about any other musical work from the Baroque era. For example, the major works of Johann Sebastian Bach went unperformed for more than 75 years after his death. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, composed in 1716 and 1717 and published in 1725, fell into almost complete obscurity from the late eighteenth century until the 1940s, when it was recorded for the first time. Handel’s own anthem for chorus and orchestra – Zadok (pronounced “ZAY-dock”) […]

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Music History Monday: A Model Citizen

On this day in 1727, the nearly 42 year-old Georg Friedrich Händel was transformed into George Frederick Handel when he was became a naturalized British subject by order of the crown. Handel’s English citizenship was reflection of not just of Handel’s conviction that his future lay in London (where he’d been living since 1710) but the conviction of the British royal family that he was far too valuable an asset to “belong” to any other nation but England. Handel was the ultimate immigrant: an Ausländer who created for his adopted England a body of music – itself an amalgam of German technique and Italian lyricism – that continues to define the English self-image to this day. How it all happened is quite a story He was born in the city of Halle, in the central German state of Saxony-Anhalt, on February 23, 1685. Despite his prodigious musical gifts and his burning ambition to “be a composer”, Handel’s father insisted that his son go to law school. Dutifully but unhappily, the young dude did what he was told, and in 1702 – at the age of 17 – he began studying the law at the University of Halle. Thankfully, within a year he […]

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Music History Monday: Immigrants and Immigration

On February 13, 1727 – 290 years ago today – the German-born Georg Friedrich Händel applied for British citizenship. Immigrants and immigration. Hot button topics these days, though I would strongly suggest we take the long view here. If there’s one thing both history and biology have taught us is that the richer the gene pool, the stronger, more competitive and more creative we are and the more tolerant of and adaptable to new ideas and experiences we become. Case in point. In 1712, George Friedrich Handel (his Anglicized name) left Germany and settled permanently in London. His departure was motivated by that most common reason to emigrate: economic opportunity. Though only 27 years old, Handel was already an accomplished composer of Italian-language opera. London offered him an extraordinary opportunity: it was a huge and hugely wealthy city, the population of which was only just beginning to develop a taste for Italian-language opera. Moreover, London had no resident opera composer of any note of its own. Handel correctly reasoned that by setting up shop in London and composing and producing Italian opera he could quickly become a very large musical fish in a very large pond. And that is precisely […]

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