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Handel in Hanover, Düsseldorf, and London

An exploration of George Frideric Handel’s music, including his compositions for German patrons, London audiences, and a royal boat trip down the Thames.

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Hanover and Düsseldorf

George Frideric Handel’s Italian sojourn ended in early 1710 when he left Rome and traveled north. His ultimate destination was London, but in the meantime there was work to be had in Germany. His first stop was Hanover where he made a terrific impression at the court of the Hanoverian Elector, the future George I of England. As a result, Handel was appointed the court’s Kapellmeister and given a handsome salary to boot.

By July of the same year he had been given leave to travel and he went to Düsseldorf where achieved similar success.

The most famous work Handel composed during this time is a cantata based on the myth of Apollo and Daphne. Written for soprano, bass, and orchestra, the cantata’s libretto tells the myth along traditional lines:

In a fit of arrogance, Apollo is smitten with Daphne and tries to ravish her. Daphne, in a desperate attempt to escape his clutches, turns herself into a laurel tree. Apollo’s disappointment turns into tears and, as consolation, he takes with him a wreath made from the laurel to wear on his head.

The music and reputation arrive before the composer

By the Fall of 1710, Handel arrived in London, but his reputation and music already preceded him. Earlier in the year, the overture from his opera Rodrigo was incorporated into a revival of a play by Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare. Entitled The Alchemist, Jonson’s play used Handel’s music, a set of dances, as filler at the beginning and in between acts.

The music from Rodrigo used in Jonson’s play is recognized as the first of many Handelian compositions to be heard in England.


In early 1711, Handel’s first opera composed in England opened in London. Rinaldo was an instant sensation which was performed by an all-Italian cast of singers. By some accounts, it was a feast for the eyes and ears. The music not only included showcases for the singers, but also for Handel himself.

The aria “Vo’ far Guerra” contains some virtuosic writing for the soprano soloist and a show-stopping harpsichord solo that must be heard to be believed.

The ‘Water Music’

By far, the most famous work of Handel’s to be heard in London before 1720 was his ‘Water Music’. As the story goes, the work was first performed for the king as he, his entourage, and over four-dozen musicians floated on a barge down the Thames River (hence the name).

The music that makes up the Water Music is, in fact, three suites for a large orchestra of woodwinds, brass, and strings that contain some of Handel’s most tuneful music.

New release…

Our new release of the week features the Norwegian ensemble Bergen Barokk in volume two of their cantata series focusing on Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst,” or “Musical Church Service,” a collection of small-scale cantatas based on devotional German texts. Released on the Toccata label, the cantatas selected by Bergen Barokk are composed for alto voice, violin, and basso continuo.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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