Born in the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, Handel is regarded as one of the greatest composers the Baroque era had (who is most famous for his operas, oratorios and concerti grossi). Although he was born in a family indifferent to music (his father was a barber-surgeon), he still received musical training in Halle, Hamburg and Italy before settling in London (1712).
From an early age, Handel longed to study music and did so on every occasion he had. While his father disapproved this kind of behavior, doubting that music was a realistic source of income (he always intended him for the study of the Civil Law) his mother was, however, supportive, and encouraged him to develop his musical talent.
After traveling with his father to Weissenfels (1692) to visit either Handel's half-brother, Carl, or nephew, Georg Christian (who was serving as valet to Duke Johann Adolf I), he began to study musical composition and keyboard technique under the careful guidance of Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow. It was Zachow who first introduced little Handel to harmony and counterpoint, which he later mastered.
Despite his dedication to his music, at his father’s insistence, Handel initially agreed to study law (1702, 5 years after his father's death) under Christian Thomasius at the University of Halle. Not surprisingly, he did not remain enrolled in law too much. In 1703 (Handel was 18 years old) he decided to fully dedicate himself to music by accepting a violinist’s position at the Hamburg Opera’s Goosemarket Theater. He quickly made himself noted in the field of composition as his two operas (Almira and Nero) were well received by the public. His success would later weaken his bond with two of his best friends (R.Keiser and Johann Mattheson). In a time where the invasion of italian opera was overwhelming, these 3 young musicians held high the standard for german art.
Following the theater's decline (who, in order to maintain itself, resorted to trivial music), without even waiting for the premiere of his newest opera (Florindo and Dafne), leaves Hamburg for Italy. Although he ”fought” against the invasion of italian opera while in Hamburg, in Italy he embraced the dramatic vocal style in which the recitative, arioso and aria alternated successfully.
After spending 4 years in Italy where he studied the cantata and oratorio and was somewhat influence by his contemporary colleagues (especially Domenico Scarlatti), Handel moved to Hanovra. Hired as the court kapellmeister (director of music) he commutes between Hanovra and London. Released during the 1710–1711 London opera season, Rinaldo was Handel’s breakthrough work. His most critically acclaimed work up to that date, it gained him the widespread recognition he would maintain throughout the rest of his musical career. In 1712 Handel settles in London becoming the english court's favorite musician.
London represented the most prolific period of his life, having the comfort of financial certainty and the adulation of the public he began composing most of his best works. In place of operas, oratorios became Handel’s new format of choice. In addition to his 22 oratorios, of which the most representative are: Esthera (1732), Athalia (1733), Deborah (1735), Saul (1739), Israel în Egipt (1739), Messia (1742), Samson (1743), Iuda Maccabeul (1746), Joshua (1748), Solomon (1749), Suzanna (1750) Theodora (1750), Iephta (1751), Händel wrote cantatas with secular signification as well.
As far as religious music goes, besides some motets, composed in Italy and England, he composed Anglican psalms, the most important being: Chandos Anthems, Coronatus Anthems and Ode for St. Cecilia's Day. As for instrumental music, Handel displays the same qualities as in the oratorio genre: melodicity and accessibility, radiancy and grandeur. The harpsichord pieces, in the form of Suites, are models of sound balance and expressive force, with catchy tunes and transparent polyphonic melodic lines.
Handel's legacy: include 42 operas; 29 oratorios; more than 120 cantatas, trios and duets; numerous arias; chamber music; a large number of ecumenical pieces; odes and serenatas; and 16 organ concerti.
His works were collected and preserved by two men: Sir Samuel Hellier, a country squire whose musical acquisitions form the nucleus of the Shaw-Hellier Collection, and the abolitionist Granville Sharp.
Here you can find a list of all of Handel's compositions.
Synthesizing contemporary styles (as Bach did), he is a european baroque first class musician, opposing the rigid forms of that period with the sincere and monumental art that he created.