Handel died in London at the age of 74. It is more than a bit fortunate that he lived so long considering his build (he was a rather portly man) and the health troubles that had plagued him ever since a stroke in 1737. His final works of note, the oratorios Theodora and Jephtha, both demonstrate that his creativity had scarcely diminished in old age. His fame and reputation had been secured by a long career, and he died a respected citizen.
Handel suffered from increasing blindness and paralysis of one arm in his later years. The composition of his final oratorio Jephtha had to be interrupted because of these troubles, and it took him much longer to complete than was normal for him. When he finished the final act he signed the completed manuscript with his name and age, perhaps knowing it would be his last.
Eventually Handel could no longer personally direct his musicians, though he still attended and oversaw the performances of his works, which were popular and profitable. It is said that during a performance of the oratorio Samson in 1753, many in attendance wept to hear the blinded hero sing the aria "Total Eclipse" as the blind Handel sat listening in the audience. Messiah became a favorite, though it was performed as an Easter piece instead of at Christmas as is common now. Frequently it was revived for the benefit of charitable organizations. Handel himself attended the annual performance a mere week before his death.
April 14th 1759, early in the morning, George Frideric Handel died. He had requested the honor of burial in Westminster Abbey and received it. He also requested a small and quiet burial, but was thwarted in this wish when thousands of Londoners turned out for it. He now lies alongside some of the most notable English writers and musicians who have ever lived. Along the wall near his grave is a statue showing a pensive Handel holding in his hand the score to the famous Messiah aria "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth." Next Page
Biography: Upbringing and Early Career | Handel's Opera Career | Transition to Oratorios | Final years | Legacy | Personality