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In addition to his oratorios, Handel’s concerti grossi, anthems and orchestral pieces also garnered him fame and success. Among the most noted were Water Music (1717), Coronation Anthems (1727), Trio Sonatas op. 2 (1722–1733), Trio Sonatas op. 5 (1739), Concerto Grosso op. 6 (1739) and Music for Royal Fireworks, completed a decade before his death.
Over the course of his musical career, Handel, exhausted by stress, endured a number of potentially debilitating problems with his physical health. He is also believed to have suffered from anxiety and depression. Yet somehow, Handel, who was known to laugh in the face of adversity, remained virtually undeterred in his determination to keep making music.
In the spring of 1737, Handel had a stroke that impaired the movement of his right hand. His fans worried that he would never compose again. But after only six weeks of recuperation in Aix-la-Chapelle, Handel was fully recovered. He went back to London and not only returned to composing, but made a comeback at playing the organ as well.
Six years later, Handel suffered a second springtime stroke. He stunned audiences once again with a speedy recovery, followed by a prolific stream of ambitious oratorios.
Handel’s three-act oratorio Samson, which premiered in London in 1743, reflected how Handel related to the character’s blindness through his own firsthand experience with the progressive degeneration of his sight:
Total eclipse! no sun, no moon.
All dark amidst the blaze of noon.
Oh glorious light! no cheering ray
To glad my eyes with welcome day.
By 1750, Handel had entirely lost the sight in his left eye. He forged on, composing the oratorio Jephtha, which also contained a reference to obscured vision. In 1752 Handel lost sight in his other eye and was rendered completely blind. As always before, Handel’s passionate pursuit of music propelled him forward. He kept on performing and composing. Handel relied on his sharp memory to compensate when necessary, and remained actively involved in productions of his work until his dying day.
On April 14, 1759, George Handel died in bed at his rented house at 25 Brook Street, in the Mayfair district of London. The Baroque composer and organist was 74 years old.
Handel was known for being a generous man, even in death. His will divided his assets among his servants and several charities, including the Foundling Hospital. He even donated the money to pay for his own funeral so that none of his loved ones would bear the financial burden. Handel was buried in Westminster Abbey a week after he died. Following his death, biographical documents began to circulate, and George Handel soon took on legendary status posthumously.
During his lifetime, Handel composed nearly 30 oratorios and close to 50 operas. At least 30 of those operas were written for the Royal Academy of Music, London’s very first Italian opera company.
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