George Frideric Handel

Messiah, HWV 56

          In the world of the arts there are those works that have won a special place in history, and whose universal appeal have transcended time and place. In the midst of the wealth of creations of artistic genius throughout time, certain works of art, while not obviously superior to other exceptionally worthy creations of the highest order, nevertheless achieve iconic status among folks of all artistic tastes. This is as true in sculpture, painting, architecture, and literature, as in music. À chacun son goût! Diversity of time, place, and individual artists makes for a relatively small set of the universally acclaimed: Hamlet, Monticello, the “Mona Lisa,” “David,” and so on.

Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351

            Handel, of course, shares the bill with J. S. Bach as the two dominant, most respected, and influential composers of the late Baroque period—roughly the first half of the 1700s.  And while they both exemplify the basic musical styles of the time, they differ in many important ways.  Bach was a servant of the church, whose cantatas and other sacred works—as well as works for keyboard--are one of the great legacies of music.   He was inspired by Italian vocal style, French dance rhythms, and German contrapuntal traditions, and integrated them into the peerless music that we know.  He lived modestly in small towns, never traveled very far, and while not an obscure composer, was primarily known for his ability as an organist.