His times: Handel’s Europe was ruled by what must have seemed like a clique of wealthy cronies, especially as the composer’s one-time boss the Elector of Hanover later became his new boss as King of England. It was to this land that Handel committed the greatest part of his life, settling here in 1712 and taking English citizenship in 1727. London, he discovered, had an appetite for musical novelty which could be lucratively swayed in the direction of Italian-style opera. After he’d exhausted that avenue, Handel took advantage of the curious no-mans-land between operatic and ecclesiastical music, developing a genre which has been a central part of British musical live ever since: the oratorio.
His music: Handel was the greatest musical dramatist of his age with an unparalleled ability to explore complex psychologies within the confines of the Baroque aesthetic. His musical style reflects his pre-London career in Italy and Germany: outstandingly melodic, always finely crafted and wonderfully clever. It was England – and perhaps more our theatres than our churches – which honed in him a thrilling and vivid way of writing for a chorus. The composer was also stylistically chameleonic, able to adapt his voice to suit contrasting traditions, occasions, countries and clients.
Himself: Though he threatened to defenestrate one singer and duelled with another, it appears from contemporary accounts as though Handel preferred convivial company to confrontation. His business skills and market knowledge were outstanding, but much of his private life remains a mystery. For the best clues, though, head to his house on Brook Street in Mayfair – now a beautifully restored museum.