2016-01-17 Notes from the Bench

“Jesus, Son of Life, My Splendor” by George Frideric Handel

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


The music of George Friederic Handel (1685-1759) represents the “High Baroque” period, the culmination of the development of the baroque style. Handel composed over 600 works including operas, oratorios, anthems, and instrumental music.

The anthem, “Jesus, Son of Life, My Splendor,” is an adaption of a choral movement from Handel’s oratorio, Brockes Passion that uses the chorale melody Schmücke dich. Brockes Passion or Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus (The Story of Jesus, Suffering and Dying for the Sins of the World), is a German oratorio libretto by Barthold Heinrich Brockes. Brockes re-worked the traditional Passion narrative by including events from the four Gospel narratives of Jesus’ suffering and death and adding to that reflective and descriptive poetry. Brockes’s libretto has been set to music by numerous composers of the baroque era.




Handel was born in Halle, Germany. His family was non-musical; his father was a barber-surgeon who wanted his son to study civil law and forbade any meddling with musical instruments. The defiant young Handel snuck a clavichord into the house and practiced at night while the rest of family was asleep. George’s talents were first discovered by his half-brother Carl, a valet for Duke Johann Adolf I in Weissenfels; Carl and the Duke convinced George’s father to allow him to study music. Handel’s first teacher was Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow and he later studied at the University of Halle. Handel’s first operas were produced by the Oper am Gansemarkt in Hamburg when while he was employed by this company as a violinist and harpsichordist. Handel was invited to visit Florence in 1706 by the Medici family, wealthy supporters of the arts in Italy, where he met numerous Italian composers and learned about Italianate music. Later, when Handel in Rome, he began composing oratorios and cantatas; opera was banned within the Papal states at this time.

In 1710, Handel moved to London and eventually became a permanent resident and naturalized British subject. Handel was initially the Kapellmeister to the German-born Prince George who was coronated King George I. Other ruling monarchs Handel served were Queen Anne and King George II, as well as various members of the English aristocracy. Handel enjoyed international fame and success throughout his lifetime. He met various composers of his day, had professional relationships with opera librettists, enjoyed the support of many wealthy patrons and investors, was a successful businessman, and lived a financially comfortable life. Handel never married and was a private person.



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