Opening Voluntary: Fugue in C Major á 3 – Georg Friederic Händel (1685-1759)
Choral Introit: Lætetur cor – Simple English Propers
The Opening Voluntary, the “Fugue in c Major á 3,” comes from a set of six pieces published as a collection attributed to the famous German-English Composer George Friederic Händel, usually known as his “Six Little Fugues.” As to whether these fugues actually were the genuine works of Händel himself or another composer working in a similar style remains a musicological question to this day. All six of these works are fugal and typically English in style, and all are in 3 voices or “á 3.”
Georg Friederic Händel was born in 1685 in Halle, Duchy of Magdeburg into a family indifferent to music. Händel’s father, 63 at the age of his birth, was a barber-surgeon. His father, who intended that his son should study law, when he discovered his son’s strong propensity to music, was so alarmed by this that he strictly forbade him to play any musical instrument. Flouting his father’s orders, Händel obtained a small clavichord, a stringed keyboard instrument popular for practice in the Baroque era and known for its soft tones, and secreted it in a room at the top of the house. His first biographer writes that “to this room he constantly stole when his family was asleep.” While still a child, Händel traveled with his father to visit a relative who was serving as a valet in a ducal court. It is said that Händel was sat down on an organ bench and surprised everyone with his playing abilities. This event was said to have helped the duke and Händel to convince his father to allow him to study music. At that time, he became the student of Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, organist of the Marienkirche of Halle.
In 1702, Händel commenced study of the law at the University of Halle at his father’s wishes but continued to work as a musician, being first organist for a year at the Cathedral of Halle and then becoming violinist with an opera orchestra in Hamburg. He produced his first two operas in Hamburg in 1705. He relocated to Italy the following year of 1706 where he composed both operas and sacred music. In 1710, Händel became Kapellmeister to the German prince Georg, the Elector of Hanover who, in 1714, became King George I of Great Britain and Ireland. Händel settled then in England where he remained for the rest of his life. Within 15 years, Händel had established three opera companies and over his later career completed more than 40 operas. In 1737, after a crisis of health, he turned progressively to the composition of English choral works, particularly grand oratorios, the most famous today being “The Messiah” of 1742. At the time of his death in 1759, Händel was both wealthy and widely respected. He was given a state funeral with full honors and buried in Westminster Abbey.