Family, Friends and Fame: Handel's Roots and First Influences

A composer's influence doesn't end within the pages of his composition. It stretches on, to musicians and other famous composers. Georg Frideric Handel is one famous example. Being a primary influence to many of the most famous composers of all time, such as Beethoven and Mozart, Handel has been one of the most acclaimed men in the history of music. The entire English nation, owes him a debt of gratitude because of the masterly way in how he encouraged and command them to assimilate and accept the beauty of the music he created.

Even a master such as Handel, though, has simple and humble origins.

He encountered obstacles and experiences during his early years that nearly cost him and prevented him from creating the masterpieces he gave the world. Most of these came during his early years of being a musician, and stemmed from close relationships. Handel Family Origins Handel's roots originally belonged to Breslau, a city in southwestern Poland, found near the Oder river.

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For several generations, their family has been coppersmiths. Valentine Handel, the grandfather of the composer, was born in 1582, and in his later years migrated to Halle.

Two sons of his followed in the coppersmith trade, but his third son, Georg, became a barber-surgeon instead. Georg married a woman who was the widow of the barber who acted as his mentor. She was 12 years older than he. After the death of his wife, he married his second wife, named Dorothea Taust, the daughter of a clergyman. From this marriage, sprung four children, one of them destined to become famous for his compositions.

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Birth and Family Ties On the 23rd of February 1685, Dorothea gave birth to George Frideric Handel, in the Duchy of Magdeburg, found at the Upper Saxony.

Halle, the place where he was born, was not a very attractive place. “Travellers unanimously complained of its dusky impression, its sooty buildings, and its crooked narrow, ill-paved streets. ” Nevertheless, Halle was home for the Handels, and this was where George Frideric spent his childhood. Handel had a half-brother and half-sister when he was born, Karl and Sophie Rosine, respectively, and both were already older than him. Despite having different mothers, Handel maintained a good relationship with his half-siblings.

Karl Handel even played an interesting role in a crucial musical incident involving his younger half brother and his love for music. Relationship With His Parents Even at a young age, George Frideric already had great love for music. When he was still a baby, the toys found in his nursery were those that produce musical sounds, including flutes, drums, and trumpets. The first few years, it was amusing, but as he developed, it seemed to become more serious. Handel had intimate, but very different ties with his father and mother.

While one urged him to pursue his dream of being a musician, the other greatly opposed it. Georg, the composer's father, wanted his child to obtain a proper occupation, and pursue law. He had big ambitions for his boy. When he observed the child's strong propensity for music, he greatly forbade and opposed it, commanding him to stay away from anything that might steer him towards that profession. He did not understood art, and does not understand the noble part artists play in the world, only seeing them as men of amusement, entertaining the world during idle moments.

“ 'Music,' said he, 'was an elegant art and a fine amusement; yet if considered as an occupation, it had little dignity, as having for its subject nothing better than mere pleasure and entertainment. '” He forbade the child to attend the public schools, fearing that he would be drawn nearer to his musical dreams. The child was also forbidden to visit places where he can hear music. The musical instruments found in the house were also banished. Despite his father's harshness towards the dream he loved so much, the child persisted.

He knew music was his calling, and even if he knew he was going against his father's wishes and putting himself in danger of being caught, he found ways. He would manage to lay hands on a dumb spinet or a clavicord, hiding it in a garret. Usually, these were given to him by his mother or godmother, a woman named Anna. At night, when the whole house is asleep, he would sneak out and tinker and play with the instrument. These hidden, stolen moments allowed the young man proper concentration, leading to better understanding of music, and therefore, paving way to greatness.

Dorothea, Handel's mother, was filled with love and ambition for her child. While her husband opposed the “low dignified” profession, she silently encouraged him to pursue it. Even when he died, Dorothea and her son's relationship were as warm and devoted to each other, drawing strength from faith. Along with her, Handel's two sisters also showered him with love and affection. This influence is perhaps the reason why the composer worked with women as singers, and became knowledgeable in the ways of women.

“Sometimes a mixed blessing, he seemed to have thought, but an opportunity and professional relationship most men did not have in that time. ” The Incident at the Duke's Palace Another interesting incident in Handel's childhood also played a crucial factor in his ambition to be a man of music. When his father was to visit Karl, the son from his former marriage, the seven year old George pleaded to be taken with him, even following the coach on foot when his father refused to take him with it. Eventually, the father agreed.

When they arrived at the Duke of Saxe-Weisenfields' Palace, where the son was a valet-de-chambre, the child wandered off, and started tinkering with the church organ, unable to resist it. The Duke heard the music, asked questions, and the child was brought to him. He asked the boy to play. The royalty recognized the child's talent and addressed his father telling him that “it was a sort of crime against humanity to stifle so much genius in its birth”. The father conceded, and swore to respect the vocation. Handel was grateful to the Duke for his good advice to his father.

In his later years, he even regarded the Duke as his benefactor. When they returned to Halle, his father allowed the child to be taught by Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, the Liebfrauenkirche's organist and also permitted him to continue his school work. For the next five years, Handel acted as an assistant for Zachow, and finally got his first formal training in the field of music. Following His Father's Wish Handel's father ruled him with an iron grip, and even if he allowed the child to practice his ambition of being a musician, he still wished for him to continue a career in law.

On February 11, 1967, the composer's father died in his sleep, perhaps of old age. He left behind his widow, two daughters and son, who was then barely 12 years old. Handel became them the man of the household, and was forced into an adult world at a tender age. Five years after his father's death, February 1702, he entered the University of Halle, as a student of law or “Studiosus Juris”. This career choice, however, was not meant to last long. In July 1703, the eighteen year old Handel moved to Hamburg, where he took a job in the theater as a “violon di ripieno”.

Without his father keeping an eye on him, he was able to leave his home and his family, and become a musician. Friendship with Georg Philipp Telemann Handel was not the only musician who was imprisoned in his deceased father's dreams of studying law. Another young man by the name of Georg Philipp Telemann was also in the same plight, unsure of his plans of studying law. His mother was insisting that he give up his dreams of music, in respect to his deceased father's dreams for him. Telemann was born at Magdeburg in 1681, and was four years older than Handel.

When they met, he was reluctantly traveling to the University of Leipzig to pursue law. Telemann says that while with Handel, he “imbibed so much of the 'strong poison' of music as to nearly overset all his resolutions”. Handel's enthusiasm for the profession influenced the other man so much, that he became tempted to go against what her mother wanted. However, Telemann's mother's wishes prevailed. Fortunately for him, a friend discovered one of his psalms and presented it to a burgomaster, who declared it a fine harmony and inquired about the composer.

He was employed to compose something for the church, and was given compensation. When he sent word to his mother (who was then supporting his finances) about this, he was able to prove to her that the profession she had been unfavorable to, yields good results and steady income after all. She finally gave him her blessing to pursue his dream. Handel and Telemann then renewed their friendship, corresponding regularly and meeting often with each other. One composer's influence upon another is always extraordinary, as seen in Handel and Telemann. Like, their music, their friendship lasted a lifetime.

They exchanged advice and encouragement, giving one another the much needed push to pursue the profession they both love. Meeting Johann Mattheson When Handel moved to Hamburg in 1703, one of the first people he made friends with was Johann Mattheson, a composer, theorist and singer. Despite Mattheson's young age, he had also become one of the most influential men in Hamburg. Like Telemann, he was four years older than Handel. Mattheson was gifted, but vain. Nevertheless, Handel was eternally grateful to Mattheson, because the latter introduced him to the musical life in the new place he was in.

Mattheson recounts that the first time he met Handel, the young man was “strong at the organ, stronger than Kuhnau in fugue and counterpoint, especially es tempore, but he knew very little about melody”. Mattheson helped Handel pursue his dreams, even introducing him to the English ambassador Sir Cyril Wyche. Their family music was assiduously cultivated, and here, Handel was able to get engagements and students. They worked at the opera together, and also went to social excursions and musicals, despite numerous controversies that surrounded their friendship.

They also traveled to Lubeck together, to contest each other for the post of the organist at the Marienkirche, to succeed Dietrich Buxtenhude, who was about to retire. They both withdrew, though, upon learning that Buxtenhude wanted the successor to marry his daughter. During the time they spent together, the two became very good friends and inseparable companions. All good friends have their disagreements, and so did these two fervent individuals. Their personalities, fueled by the same music, can be very different at times, and often became the result of conflict.

In the marketplace, in front of a large crowd, they fought with swords after a quarrel while conducting “Cleopatra”, Mattheson's opera. The fight ended when a metal button on Handel's coat broke Mattheson's sword. Perhaps, they both realized the stupidity of their actions. Hence, the two musicians resolved the issue, buried the hatchet, and emerged better friends than ever. During his stay in Hamburg, Handel was able to produce a cantata on the Passion, four operas and several minor compositions.

These, and the exposure and experience from this place would not have been possible, if not for the guidance and help of his good friend and colleague Johann Mattheson. Concluding A Life Of Music George Frideric Handel died on April 14, 1759, peacefully in his sleep. He left behind a life's worth of compositions, the most acclaimed and famous one being the “Messiah”. If a study on his operas and dramatic works was made, people will discover a Handel that's very unknown: a composer with an unparalleled sense for dramatic human character.

Perhaps, majority of it came from a life of experiences, but a tremendous part of it came from the people closest to him. His family origins and closest friends influenced him, in such a way that he emerged as one of the most famous and celebrated composers in the world. References Bray, Anna Eliza. (1857). Handel: His Life, Personal and Professional. Harvard University. Dent, Edward Joseph. (2007). Handel. BiblioBazaar, LLC. Harris, Ellen T. (2001). Handel As Orpheus: Voice And Desire In The Chamber Cantatas. Harvard University Press. Hogwood, Christopher. (2005). Handel: Water Music and Music for The Royal Fireworks. Cambridge University

Press. Lang, Paul Henry. (1996). George Frideric Handel. Courier Dove Publications. Sadie, Stanley & Hicks, Anthony. (1987). Handel: Tercentenary Collection. Boydell and Brewer. Schoelcher, Victor. (1857). The Life of Handel. Oxford University. Streatfield, R. A. (2005). Handel. Kessinger Publishing. Van Til, Marian. (2007). George Frideric Handel: A Music Lover's Guide to His Life, His Faith and the Development of Messiah and His Other Oratorios. WordPower Publishing. Vaughan, Robert, & Allon, Henry. (1862). The British Quarterly Review. Hodder and Stoughton. Williams, Charles Francis Abdy. (2008). Handel. BiblioBazaar, LLC.

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Family, Friends and Fame: Handel's Roots and First Influences. (2016, Sep 21). Retrieved from

Family, Friends and Fame: Handel's Roots and First Influences
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