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  • Writer's pictureStephen Himes

What is the Nature of Genius? Handel's Creation of "Messiah"

Another course I've been planning for years! This course is centered on how Georg Friedrich Handel came to create his famous Messiah, and it's also an exploration of the concept of genius. Handel came to London from Hanover, following the Hanoverian King George after a successful career creating opera in Italy. He became one of the most renowned composers in the Western canon.


We will dive not only into his music, but also the history and politics that conspired to be a platform for Handel's music. We'll hear how Handel composed for different spaces (Zadok the Priest, the UK's coronation anthem, was composed specifically for Westminster Abbey), and how he arranged the orchestra to fill the Green Park with Music for Royal Fireworks and built a kind-of party barge for the king to listen to Water Music sailing down the Thames.


More than that, Handel basically invented the modern role of conductor: Not just composing music, but conducting business affairs, contributing as a pillar of the community, and existing as a political figure in high society while creating music for the masses. He's a fascinating figure, and you don't need training in music to spend time with him. We'll learn about his composition of Messiah in the very house where he lived in wrote (downstairs from what could become Jimi Hendrix' London house centuries later), dig through his archives and wills in the Foundling Museum, and investigate his handwritten notes in the stacks of the British Library. This course is perfect for AP Music Theory students, but really, it's adaptable because the theme is genius.


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