Music / George Frederic Handel
"I thought I saw the face of God."
-After composing the Hallelujah chorus for Messiah
German-born English composer (23 February 1685 -– 14 April 1759), an exact contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach
(Bach was born 37 days after Händel), although they never met. Händel made his name and fortune composing operas in Italian, writing over 40 of them, most of them for the English market after he moved to London; he was the first ever composer to get rich and famous from composing
. In the 1740s, the audience's taste for Italian opera mysteriously went away. After a brief period of reconsideration, Händel saw what the audience wanted and began to write oratorios in English, the most famous of which (and most famous overall) is Messiah
. (Yes, it's the one with the "Hallelujah" chorus.)
He is mentioned as being dead in the song "Decomposing Composers" by Michael Palin
sang on Monty Python
's Monty Pythons Contractual Obligation Album
Tropes present in Händel's works:
- Adaptation Distillation: When he used old libretti as the basis for his operas, the texts were often considerably shortened.
- Adaptation Expansion: When Händel decided to write an opera based on Congreve's Semele libretto, an unknown poet added substantially to the text, borrowing from a number of authors.
- Ambiguously Gay: At the end of Saul, David responds to Jonathan's death with the words 'Great was the pleasure I enjoy'd in thee,/ and more than woman's love thy wondrous love to me'. But given that this was 200 years ago, concepts of relationship were very different; it might mean they were Heterosexual Life-Partners. The debate rages on...
- Ambition Is Evil: In Alexander Balus, Ptolemee marries his daughter Cleopatra off to the title character, plotting to stab him in the back to further his own goals. The scheme ultimately ruins his daughter's wedded bliss (she and Alexander were actually happy together), and gets both Ptolemee and Alexander killed. Cleopatra summarises that "This is thy havock, O ambition, bane of human happiness!".
- Artistic Licence History: A lot of Händel's operas are based on the lives of historical figures (Alessandro, Ricardo Primo, Agrippina), but the librettists frequently distorted facts in service of a good story (and a happy ending). Just to pick a prominent example, anyone familiar with Imperial Roman history might be surprised that Agrippina concludes with joyful wedding celebrations when, in reality, the events portrayed (Agrippina's string-pulling with her son Nero, Nero's adulterous affair with Poppea Sabina etc.) led to... well, a lot of ugly death, really.
- Lampshaded in the introduction to the word-books for Serse: "Some imbicilities, and the temerity of Xerxes (such as his being deeply enamour’d with a plane tree, and the building of a bridge over the Hellespont to unite Asia to Europe) are the basis of the story, the rest is fiction".
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: He wrote the coronation anthem "Zadok the Priest" for the coronation of George II in 1727. It proved so popular that it has been used at every coronation ever since.
- Bearer of Bad News: There are quite a few Greek-tragedy-style 'messenger scenes' (where horrible events happen offstage and are reported by an eyewitness) in both the operas and oratorios.
- Happens twice in quick succession in Alexander Balus: first someone rushes in to announce that Alexander is dead, then someone else arrives with news of Ptolemee's death (see From Bad to Worse below).
- Lycas telling the citizens about the poisoning of the title character in Hercules.
- Samson has a character referred to as 'messenger' in the libretto and 'an Hebrew of our tribe' by the other characters who relates how Samson pulled down a building, killing himself. He does add a silver lining (or at least the people he's talking to would see it as such): Samson's Philistine captors also died in the collapse.
- The Amalekite who tells David of Saul and Jonathan's deaths in Saul, then gets executed for his trouble (he himself had helped Saul commit suicide, but still...).
- Best Friends In Law: David and Jonathan in Saul after David marries Jonathan's sister Michal.
- Brainless Beauty: The title character in Semele is sometimes seen as this, but she becomes heart-breakingly self-aware in the moments before her death.
- Classical Mythology: The basis for several of his operas, oratorios and cantatas.
- Chewing the Scenery: The title character in Hercules after being poisoned, and his wife Dejanira after realising she poisoned him.
- Driven to Suicide: Bajazet in Tamerlano.
- Downer Ending: Given that opera and oratorio of the time had a strong emphasis on happy endings, these are few and far between, but the English oratorio Theodora is an outstanding exception, finishing with the execution of the title character and her lover.
- Every Man Has His Price: In Semele, Juno tries to get Somnus, the god of sleep, to help her kill the title character. He refuses, and asks to be left in peace... but when she offers him the hand of a beautiful nymph, he's suddenly wide awake and eager to help.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Pop quiz—For what event do you think "Music for the Royal Fireworks" was composed? How about the "Coronation Anthems"?
- From Bad to Worse/BSOD Song: At the end of Alexander Balus, a messenger arrives with news that Cleopatra's husband has been killed in battle, and she responds with an anguished, passionate lament. Then a second messenger comes to tell her that her father is also dead... and after a brief outburst, she just shuts down, and closes the scene thusly:
Convey me to some peaceful shore
Where no tumultuous billows roar,
Where life, though joyless, still is calm
and sweet content is sorrow's balm.
There, free from pomp and care, to wait,
forgetting and forgot, the will of fate.
- Gender-Blender Name: Michal is the daughter of the title character in Saul. Comes across as this trope to modern audiences, mightn't have at its premiere.
- Genre-Busting: Scholars still argue over whether Hercules and Semele are oratorios, operas or something else (even though they're performed in opera houses quite a bit). Händel called Hercules 'A Musical Drama' and said Semele would be performed 'After the manner of an oratorio' (implying it wasn't actually one), so it seems even the man himself didn't want to nail his colours to the mast.
- God-Is-Love Songs: The "Hallelujah" chorus from Messiah may be the best illustration of this trope ever.
- Greek Chorus: In a lot of the oratorios, particularly (and unsurprisingly) the ones based on Classical Mythology.
- Harsher in Hindsight: Samson contains the famous aria 'Total eclipse', in which a blind man laments the loss of his sight. Händel himself went blind toward the end of his life, and performances of this aria were said to move him, and the audience, to tears.
- Heel–Face Turn: A lot of the operas end with the villain having one of these. It was a really common device in Italian-language opera at the time, not just in Händel's works.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: David and Jonathan in Saul, though some read it as Ambiguously Gay.
- Hymn to Music: Several times. In Saul, David's skill as a harpist gives rise to an extensive one. Alexander's Feast; or, The Power of Music and Ode for St Cecilia's Day, both based on poems by Dryden in honour of the patron saint of music, apply this trope to entire odes rather than just a single song or movement.
- Hypocrite: The title character in Saul made witchcraft punishable by death... then he displeases God, can't hope for any divine aid in an imminent war, and goes to a witch for help.
- It's All About Me: Athamas in Semele comes across like this, particularly when he sees Ino crying and thinks she's upset because things aren't going his way. She's actually secretly in love with him, and calls him out on his self-absorption.
- Judgment of Solomon: Not surprisingly, in Solomon, two women, baby and everything.
- Last Minute Reprieve: The title character in Jephtha is about to sacrifice his own daughter (because of a rash promise to God), when an angel appears and tells him there's no need because... God set the whole thing up and stuff. It jars, but Händel pulls it off.
- Last Request: When his lifelong friend and commissioner, George I, was on his deathbed, he made two acts as king: the first was to naturalize Händel as a British citizen. The second one was to commission him to write a coronation anthem for his son, who would become George II. It was awesome.
- Melismatic Vocals: A very popular device for Baroque composers, and Händel was very good at it. Particularly well-known example in the chorus 'For unto us a child is born' from Messiah; 'born' is set to a 57-note melisma.
- Mood Whiplash: Baroque composers were fond of extreme contrast, and Händel uses this a lot. However, there are a few particularly cool examples that deserve special mention:
- Act I of Acis and Galatea closes with the love duet 'Happy We!', and Act II opens with the chorus ''Wretched lovers! quit your dream'.
- In Alexander Balus, Cleopatra's meditative, pastoral aria is suddenly interrupted by a chorus of thugs sent by her father to kidnap her. Made all the more striking because we expect this to be a da capo aria (ABA) but the chorus bursts in before Cleopatra finishes the B section.
- L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato positively runs on this trope, alternating songs in praise of a carefree life of pleasure with ones extolling a hermitic, religious existence.
- In Samson, two friends pensively discuss their concern for the title character, only to be interrupted mid sentence by 'A symphony of horror and confusion' representing the collapse of a nearby building.
- The chorus "All We, Like Sheep" from The Messiah starts off quite cheerfully, with layered melismas making the music sound as though the whole choir is on a whirlgig. And then the music draws to a dead halt and the second half of the chorus is slow and somber in a minor key.
- Saul features a cheerful chorus celebrating David's triumph, followed by the title character expressing jealous, paranoid rage. Then we go back to the jubilant chorus (even more excited than before), then back to broody Saul, then on to even angrier Saul.
- The title heroine in Susanna sings a dignified lament whose middle section is interrupted by the impatient blusterings of another character. Then she goes back to the first section to finish the aria anyway.
- Music of Note: The Messiah, in particular the "Hallelujah Chorus", is pretty much required listening. Also, don't miss the "Water Music" and "Music for the Royal Fireworks."
- My God, What Have I Done?: Dejanira in Hercules after she gives her husband a robe soaked in poison (she thought it was a potion that would stop him cheating). Results in a pretty terrifying breakdown, with violent mood swings and horrible hallucinations, all vividly portrayed in music.
- Necromancer: The Witch of Endor in Saul, who summons the ghost of the prophet Samuel at Saul's command.
- Opera: He composed dozens of them, a few of which remain in the standard repertoire to this day, and others that are starting to come back in vogue.
- Out-of-Genre Experience: While Händel is rightly famous for his own work, he is less known as a major force in the preservation of Irish folk music. He spent a lot of time in Dublin gathering and notating Irish airs and dance tunes.
- Passion Play: Brockes Passion and much of the second part of Messiah.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The "Hallelujah Chorus" has been used and abused in innumerable commercials and movies.
- Rightful King Returns: Joas in Athalia.
- Standard Snippet: The Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah is probably THE best-known piece from Handel, especially since modern comedies love using it.
- The Simple Life Is Simple: The pastoral opera Acis and Galatea and the ode L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato use this trope almost throughout (and use it gloriously).
- Take Me Instead: In Jephtha, Hamor offers to be sacrificed in place of his fiancée Iphis.
- Tear Jerker: The Messiah moved him to tears. Apparently he actually had a kind of religious/supernatural experience after its first performance, when he looked again at the music and supposedly saw the face of God staring back at him.
- Trope Codifier: For English oratorio.
- Urban Legend: King George II did not rise to his feet upon hearing the "Hallelujah Chorus," nor indeed is there any clear evidence he was even at the premiere. But thanks to the legend, it's become a concert tradition for the audience to follow suit.
- Also, the story is sometimes told that Händel composed the "Water Music" to earn his way back into the king's favor after a falling-out. In fact, George I specifically commissioned the piece in order to counter the growing popularity of his son, the Prince of Wales (later George II), with whom—like pretty much all Hanoverian monarchs and their eldest sons—he had had a falling-out.
- The Vamp: Dalila in Samson, and the title character in Alcina, who seduces knights, gets bored of them, and turns them into... anything that comes to mind.
- War Is Hell: The aria 'War, he sung, is toil and trouble' in Alexander's Feast.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The title character in Jephtha promises God that if he triumphs in battle, he'll sacrifice the first living thing he sees when he gets back. The first person he meets is his daughter. When his brother, wife and future son-in-law find out, they let fly with this trope.
- Woman Scorned:
- Dejanira in Hercules, though she only thought she was about to be scorned. It turned out she was wrong, but by the time she realised that it was already waaaay too late.
- Juno in Semele; she arranges for her husband's mistress (the title character) to be burned to death.
Tropes present in Händel's life: