George Frideric Handel
The Triumph of Time and Truth
By Wolf H. Birkenbihl
The script “The Triumph of Time and Truth” deals with life and career of George Frideric Handel starting with his early years in Halle, Handel’s birth place, where he already got into music as a little boy by secretly playing a small clavichord on the attic.
At Weissenfels, the court of the Duke of Saxony, the budding spirit of the ten year old firstly became obvious to an audience listening.
His friendship with George Phillip Telemann led him to Hamburg at the very beginning of the 18th century. Here his genius became already visible and he began to develop his own particular style of composing operas which remained so significant for him for decades.
In Rome, his next domicile, it was the oratorio beside the opera he focused on. The time he spent in Italy was most formative for his further personal development.
The main focus of this script is on Handel’s London years from 1711 to 1759 where his career reached its peak. Here it was that his entirely new creation, the English oratorio became such a great success. This almost half a century brought glory, crisis and wealth to George Frideric Handel.
The composition phase of the ‘Messiah.’ Initially we can see only a pair of legs in silk stocking and shoes.…
Handel paces the floor of his Brook Street study, then despatches his servant to buy more paper and ink. With the quill in hand, he goes to his high desk and composes. The fly leaf bears the date ‘London 22 August 1741.’ (The ‘Messiah’ is to be heard in the background). Handel speaks to himself: “let my song be a light in the darkness.”
Handel writes from early in the morning until late at night, day in day out. On 12 September 1741, after three weeks of work, the score for the ‘Messiah’ is complete.
The situation in 1741:
His oratorios ‘Saul’ and ‘Israel in Egypt,’ have brought Handel great success in London and many Londoners are enthused by his entirely new creations. Influential members of the aristocracy are unsettled by his quick successes, and as they are unable to find anyone to rival his skills, they stoop to other means to hinder him. They arrange for announcements of his concerts to be torn down, pay gatecrashers to disrupt his performances and throw parties to clash with the debut a new oratorio. These adverse circumstances lead Handel to stage his next large work (for the foreseeable future at least) not in London, but in Dublin. Appalled at the great social suffering in the Irish capital, he seeks to organize at least one concert for charitable purposes - a benefit concert. (The Viceroy of Ireland, William Cavendish, has invited Handel to Dublin in the name of many charitable organizations). Handel wrote a large oratorio for the occasion – the ‘Messiah.’
The premiere of the ‘Messiah’ in Dublin’s Neal’s Music Hall on 13 April 1742 is attended by an audience of 700, sitting cramped together. The audience consists of a host of bishops, deacons, professors, magistrates as well as his lordship, the Viceroy and his family. Signoria Avolio performs the role of lead soprano. The end of the performance is greeted by a seemingly endless silence. Finally, the tension erupts into thunderous applause and calls for an encore. Handel rises from the organ and takes a half bow.
The press soon report the event, and the ‘Messiah’ is the talk of society. Turbulent Dublin streets full of people, riders and carriages...
Back to the beginning:
Handel displayed great pleasure in music in his earliest years. His father, who had intended him to be lawyer, is disturbed by this development and forbids the young Handel to have contact with musical instruments of any kind. Handel’s Aunt Emma, also resident in the Handel household, smuggles a small clavichord into the attic whilst Handel's father is away on one of his many visits to the sick. Handel, not even ten, creeps into the attic at night to practice after the rest of the household are long in bed.
One day whilst Handel is attempting his first musical steps, a servant locks the attic door, preventing Handel from arriving at the supper table punctually, as marked by the chiming of the bells of the Halle Liebfrauenkirche. How should he draw attention to his plight without betraying his secret? He begins to despair. In his distress, he is assisted by his fear of his father. He imagines the paternal harangue which doubtless awaits him and in doing so, remembers a sentence often spoken by his father “God helps those who help themselves.” “The Almighty will lead me as he sees fit” says Handel to himself, and he plays an old hymn to raise his spirits. Shortly afterwards, his aunt appears, pale and worried. She remains in the doorway until Handel finishes a chorale, for which he can already play all the parts.
A further important incident takes place at Weissenfels, the court of the Duke of Saxony, around 1696. From time to time, Handel's father journeyed to Weissenfels to perform his duties as doctor or privy valet.
About to undertake one of his periodic journeys to the neighbouring residence town, his son, Georg Friedrich is desperate to accompany him and persists in articulating his wish, despite the energetic refusal of the surgeon. The carriage leaves and Handel follows on foot. The poor roads soon slow the carriage so that the son is able to catch up. His father is very angry at this display of temerity and wilfulness and asks him: “how dare you do this after I so expressly forbade it?” Instead of answering, the boy continued to plead his case until the surgeon replied “so be it. Such a strong will should be rewarded” (Mainwaring). The father helps his son into the carriage and the continued in the direction of Weissenfels.
Arrived at their destination, servants attend to the child. The boy repeatedly asks to be allowed to play the organ. The court organist, a taciturn elderly man finally takes him to the organ loft in the chapel and shows him the basics of organ playing.
Handel’s father allows his son to accompany him during his next visit to the ducal court.
The young Handel is allowed to sit next to the court organist for the length of the service. He follows the organist, captivated. At the end of the service, Handel is allowed to play a little and show just what he can do. “It just so happened, that Handel played the postludium in the presence of the duke.” The manner of his playing attracted the attention of his grace so that as he left the chapel, he asked his valet (Carl Handel, Georg Handel’s youngest son from his first marriage) who it was that had played the organ so pleasingly. The answer came that it was his brother. (Mainwaring).
The duke sent for Handel and praised the young boy for his excellent playing. After the entry of his father, the Duke Johann Adolph asked him as to the “source of such an outstanding instruction?” “I know of no lessons as those in the Lutheran Gymnasium at Halle” replied a somewhat non-plussed Georg Handel . The duke declared that “every man knows best how his children should be raised, but that it would be a sin ….against the common good and the future world … to rob it of such a budding spirit…”
“He is to study law” answered Handel’s father, who added “…although music be a good art and bonny amusement…. it serves nothing more than disport and delight. It is reported that the duke opined that “he should be left free to follow the natural instinct of his spirit.” (Mainwaring). The eyes of the young Handel remained fixed on his powerful advocate for the duration of the discourse. Handel's father finally saw reason and consented to allow his son to take music instruction.
After returning to Halle, his father followed the advice of the Duke and his son’s urging and entrusted Handel to the teaching of Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, organist at the Liebfrauenkirche and conductor of the city chorus musicus.
Zachow instructed the 11 year old Handel on the harpsichord in the Handel home showed him the various forms of notation, their writing and styles as well as his “collection of Italian and German music supplies” (Mainwaring).
From this point on, Handel was able to follow his calling unhindered. After some two years of instruction, Zachow searches for teacher who could bring his gifted pupil further. When the Brandenburg Elector Friedrich III seeks medical advice from the famous surgeon Georg Handel, the time has come. Georg Friedrich Handel travels to Berlin with his father. Zachow has heard that the Princess Sophie Charlotte is a generous patron of talented artists, and the young boy is granted the chance to play before the princess.
Georg Friedrich Handel sitting at the harpsichord in the Schloss Charlottenburg . Princess Sophie and a few courtiers listen to the spirited playing of Handel and applaud. The princess turns to those present and speaks of a unique discovery. “This gifted talent must be sent to Italy to receive instruction from the best of teachers.”
Back in Halle, Georg Handel and his wife consider the generous royal offer. The young Georg Friedrich Handel enters the room and his father says to him “once accepted into royal service, you would have to remain in the position whether it suit or not. Should he find favour, he would hardly be released, were he to rouse even the merest displeasure, his downfall awaits.” (Mainwaring). Handel’s father takes his quill and writes an apology. The young Handel acknowledges this development sulkily.
The letter to the prince and princess reads: “with the greatest reverence to your Majesty we thank you that you have taken it on yourselves to consider the case of our son. As we have become old and suppose not to live for a greater time than we have already enjoyed, we are minded to retain our son with us. It is with the greatest of reverence and respect for your person that we hope your Majesty will forgive us that we refuse the royal order imparted upon our son.” (freely, according to Mainwaring). To his son, the father made clear: “it has always been our wish that you study law.” To which he adds: “a lord seeks always to make only a servant from a man. Remember that.” Georg Friedrich Handel suppresses his reluctance and leaves the room on the arm of his mother.
 “Last Tuesday, the new music hall in the Fishamble Street saw the premiere of Handel’s new large Oratorio with the title the ‘Messiah.’” (Dublin Journal)