G.F. Handel George Frideric Handel

On the other extreme, some held up Handels music, especially his religious English oratorios, as the absolute embodiment of English musical style. As a result, English music and Handel in particular gained a false reputation on the European continent as being overly moral and religious.

This has been a difficult reputation for Handel to shake, even in the 20th and 21st centuries. Because his most significant contribution to the development of Baroque music and Western culture in general was the English oratorio, and because his most famous and crowd-pleasing oratorio by far has always been and remains today the Messiah, Handel is inextricably tied in the modern mind to one musical form and one piece of music in particular. Because of this, he enjoys neither the public acknowledgement that the breadth of his compositional achievement deserves, nor the scholarly interest that has been given more “dynamic” composers like Mozart and Beethoven.

In the end, however, Handel has taken up an important and indelible place in the modern Western psyche. The English oratorio helped develop the musical consciousness of an entire nation — a nation that itself would spread that musical consciousness across the globe during the subsequent centuries.

Most importantly, his Messiah seems to be in no danger of being ousted from its spot as the most spiritually lifting and expansively celebratory hymn of praise in the Western classical repertoire. Beyond its significance as an artifact of 18th century English religious sentiment and stylistic preferences, beyond its usefulness as an example of Handels enormous adaptability as a composer, it stands as an anthem to the power of music as an expression of the human spirit. A composer can hardly ask for a better legacy.


Bray, Anna Eliza. Handel: His Life, Personal and Professional. London: Ward & Co., 1857.

Buelow, George J. A History of Baroque Music. Bloomington, in: Indiana University Press, 2004.

Dean, Winton, and Anthony Hicks. The New Grove Handel. New York: W.W. Norton, 1983.

Hoffman, Miles. The NPR Classical Music Companion. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

Lang, Paul Henry. George Frideric Handel. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.

Sadie, Julie Anne. Companion to Baroque.

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