A timeline of the life of the composer George Frideric Handel, assembled in conjunction with the American Handel Festival, which convenes in Seattle beginning March 11, 2011.

Share story

Handel? The guy who wrote ‘Messiah’? There’s a festival built around that guy?

Yes, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) is that guy, but he was also an opera guy, a cantata guy, an oratorio guy, a concerto grossi guy and an organ guy. We have more than 40 of his operas, at least 20 of his oratorios, some of his chamber music, the lovely suite “Water Music,” the “Music for Royal Fireworks,” much sacred vocal music, concertos, motets, works for violin, recorder, oboe and viola da gamba — hundreds of works in all. He was a cosmopolitan fellow; he wrote and spoke German, of course, plus English, French and Italian. And he was business-savvy, founding musical companies and working as a conductor and concert manager for his own works.

He was one of those lucky composers who didn’t have to be dead for centuries before being admired. While many of the physical descriptions that exist from contemporaries aren’t terribly flattering — “he was somewhat corpulent, and unwieldy in his motion,” recalled an 18th-century music historian — his ability to harness the dramatic power of music and create works of stunning beauty was obvious. Beethoven, no slouch, reportedly called Handel “the greatest composer who ever lived”

Seems unfair to boil him down to just a list of dates and events, but the American Handel Festival, in town beginning March 11 (for details on the 17-day program, see www.americanhandelfestival.org) will do his extraordinary life justice.

Here are some dates and events of interest:

1685 George Frideric Handel is born in Germany.

1692 Begins taking composition lessons from a local church organist.

1695 Begins composing for violin and oboe. (Lessons pay off.)

1699-1700 Completes what some scholars consider his earliest datable work: Trio sonata in G minor, Op. 2 No. 2.

1703 Discusses succeeding the chief organist at Lübeck (Germany) cathedral. Learns that he must marry the current organist’s daughter upon getting the job. Declines.

1704 Writes his first opera, “Almira.”

1706 Moves to Italy and composes several operas (including “Rodrigo” and “Agrippina”). Upon moving on to Rome, where opera was banned, he turns to producing sacred music such as “Dixit Dominus.”

1710 Writes the opera “Rinaldo” in two weeks upon returning to England and discovering the King’s Theatre was in the market for a production.

1712 Decides to settle permanently in England. (Yearly income from Queen Anne probably doesn’t hurt.)

1715 Writes the now-famous “Water Music,” which is later played for the royal entourage as they go a-boating on the Thames.

1718 His pastoral opera “Acis and Galatea” premieres in its original form, a one-act masque.

1723 Moves into 25 Brook St., Mayfair, London, where he spent the rest of his life.

1737 Suffers a stroke, which is reported in the London Evening Post.

1741 Stops composing operas and turns to oratorios, which are hugely successful. Also composes “Messiah,” which will come to eclipse nearly all his other works.

1751 Suffers deteriorating vision.

1757 Revises his will (third time), this time bequeathing a “fair copy of the Score and all Parts” of “Messiah” to the Foundling Hospital in London.

1759 Dies in London, days after appearing at a “Messiah” performance.

1760 John Mainwaring writes the first Handel biography — also the first biography of any composer.

1968 Jimi Hendrix moves into the top-floor rooms of 23 Brook St., Mayfair, London, now the administrative office of Handel House Museum.

1981 The first American Handel Festival is held at the University of Maryland; The American Handel Society is founded five years later.

Melissa Davis, Seattle Times assistant A&E editor