George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) was one of the finest composers of his age. He worked prolifically across many different genres, most notably in opera and oratorio. His works written for the first theatre on the Royal Opera House’s Covent Garden site include the operas Ariodante and Alcina and the oratorios Alexander’s Feast, Samson, Semele, Judas, Maccabeus, Joshua, Susanna, Solomon and Jephtha.
Handel was born in Halle. After early studies in organ, harpsichord and composition he moved to Hamburg in 1703 to join the opera house there as a violinist, writing his first opera for the company in 1705. After travels to Italy, Hanover and Düsseldorf he moved to London, settling permanently in the city in 1713 and becoming a British citizen in 1727. With Rinaldo in 1710 he became the first composer to write an Italian opera specifically for London, and over the following decades he came to dominate Italian opera and oratorio in the city, as well as inventing and developing the genre of English oratorio. His many works include the masque Acis and Galatea and the first English oratorio Esther (written for the Duke of Chandos), the operas Radamisto, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Tamerlano, Rodelinda, Riccardo primo, the oratorios Saul, Israel in Egypt, Messiah and Belshazzar and numerous orchestral, chamber and sacred and secular choral works, including Zadok the Priest and ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’.
Handel was acclaimed during his lifetime, with honours including a doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1733 and a marble statue of him by Louis Roubiliac, commissioned for Vauxhall gardens in 1738. He was closely involved with the charities the Fund for the Support of Decay’d Musicians (the future Royal Society of Musicians) and the Foundling Hospital.