The letters he left behind are relatively few, and these are sparing in personal detail. Vigilantly he steered clear of controversy, the better to concentrate on work, his true priority. He seems to have gone from one success to another; when met with setbacks, say an unenthusiastic response to an opera, he trained his resources on new projects, justifiably confident of his ability to succeed again. Succeed he did, driven, as the conductor and musicologist Jane Glover writes, by “his own charismatic energy and fierce insistence on the highest possible standards.” At the time of his death in 1759 at the age of seventy-four, George Frideric Handel was famous throughout Europe.

Born in 1685 in the German university town of Halle, the young Handel soon received instruction there in counterpoint and composition, earned recognition for his organ and harpsichord playing, and at the...


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