Monday, April 23, 2012


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George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel was born in Halle, Germany on February , 1685. His name was originally spelled Georg Friedrich Handel. He was baptized at the Church ‘Zuunser lieben Frauen’ at Halle-on Saal on February 4, 1685. Handel’s father, Herr Georg Handel, was a barber-surgeon. Handel was born into his father’s second marriage. His father was 6 years old when George was born. His mother was Dorothea. She was about 0 years younger than her husband. Handel’s father had children from his first marriage. Handel also had two sisters from his father’s second marriage. Their names were Dorothea Sophia and Johanna Christiana.

Handel was not born into a musical family. His father hoped that Handel would study law. However, when he was years old his musical talent was so developed that he was able to study with a composer and an organist. At the age of 11, he was giving organ lessons and also composing. Handel became the assistant organist at the cathedral of Halle at 1 years of age. The principal organist was his teacher. His name was Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau. On February 11, 167 Handel’s father died.

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Handel went to Italy to write very popular operas at the age of 1. Among these works were his first two oratorios, II Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno and La Resurrezione. He also wrote the opera Agrippina. He was in Italy during a high period of Italian Boroque operas. At this time he met many great musicians such as Archangelo Corelli and Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti. They had a great influence on Handel’s musical style. He was also able to get to know princes, cardinals, and most importantly famous musicians. He traveled to many places during his 4-year stay there. He visited Florence, Venice, Rome, and Naples.

Handel returned to Germany in 1710. At this point he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover. He left to take a quick trip to England. He had such great success there that he asked for a second leave years later. He decided to stay in England permanently. Handel became music master to the Prince of Wales’ daughters.

On July 17, 1717 there was a royal event in London on a Wednesday night for King George I of England and his guests of English nobility. They boarded onto barges on the Thames River at Whitehall. The party did not end until in the morning. One of the river barges was simply for the music of the night. There Handel played what is now known as Handel’s Water Music. Water Music was then played with trumpets, horns, oboes, bassoons, German (transverse) flutes, French flutes (recorders), violins, and basses.

The Prince and Princess of Wales did not participate in the festivities. This shows how the event had great political significance. Earlier there had been conflict between the King and the Prince. The Prince eventually gained several important followers. He then had enough support in Parliament to be a large threat to the King’s ministers. The King cancelled his plans for a visit to Hanover. Instead he decided to try to get more publicity.

Water Music may have been Handel’s way of showing that in the conflict between the King and the Prince of Wales, he supported the King over the Prince. This was a big deal because Handel had been a favorite of the Prince and Princess. Water Music included overtures, fanfares, and instrumental arias. The music shows Handel’s full range of style in the period of his first opera for England. He introduced French horns into an English orchestra for the first time in the Water Works. The rhythm is very similar throughout the piece. It has a very joyful mood.

In 174 Handel wrote The Messiah. It is unique because unlike Handel’s other works, it is still extremely popular today. It is one of the most renowned pieces of English sacred music. While composing the Hallelujah chorus Handel wrote in his journal, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself.” He said it was a favorite and an inspiration to him. He wrote The Messiah in 4 days. It was composed for a performance benefiting charities in Dublin on April 1, 174.

Handel wrote The Messiah after a low period in his life. He had recently finished some unremarkable operas in London where the audience seemed to be indifferent about his music. He had been feeling very low, empty, and alone. It was then that he picked up his Bible and began to read about the Resurrection story. From there Handel began to write The Messiah. It lasts about ½ hours. It is composed into parts Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. The parts are broken in arias and choruses. The Messiah is different than Handel’s other works because it is meditative rather than dramatic. It is from the New Testament rather than the Old Testament. It also has no plot like Handel’s other pieces. The Messiah is especially known for the Hallelujah Chorus, which happens to be one of my favorite pieces. I have had the honor of performing the piece with a choir and orchestra a few times. Like many baroque pieces, it echoes itself many times. Rhythmic patterns often repeat themselves. The mood stays very upbeat and joyful. The dynamics change suddenly. This is called terraced dynamics. The beginning is very homophonic. However, throughout the piece it changes to polyphonic and then to monophonic. At the end there is a large pause and then a sudden burst of instruments and voices that resound in, “Hallelujah!”

Handel’s sight became poor in 1751. By 175 he was completely blind. However, he continued to conduct performances of his works occasionally. On April 6, 175 Handel accompanied a performance of The Messiah on the organ for the final concert of the season. Just 8 days later, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, he passed away. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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