George Frideric Handel’s career is in tatters. He is invited to Dublin to present the premiere of a new work, but Dublin has a dearth of singers adequate for the job. Then Handel meets Jamie O’Flaherty, a street urchin with a beautiful voice. The two save each other.
This film is a part of the Composers’ Specials. The series received the 1996 CableACE Award for Best Children’s Series and was a Gemini Award Winner (Canada’s Emmy) for Best Youth Program or Series. The series also received the American Library Association’s Recommendation to all public schools and libraries in 1996. “Handel’s Last Chance” itself won the Oppenheim Golden Seal Award for Best Children’s Videos and the KIDS FIRST Award for Best Children’s Video from The Coalition for Quality Children’s Video.
Leon Pownall, Todd Fennell, Gerard Parkes, Seanna McKenna, Cody Jones, Steven Miller, Jennifer Rockett.
This film is one of the award-winning Composers’ Specials. It will introduce children to Handel (1685-1759) and to “The Messiah,” perhaps his greatest work. The story is fantasy based upon many historical elements. In 1740, Handel’s successes with Italian opera were no more. The tastes of the English middle class had changed and now favored serious religious works, such as the oratorio. Handel’s trip to Dublin to stage the first performance of “The Messiah” marked a turning point in his career.
The appearance of an elderly Jonathan Swift as Handel’s avuncular and forgetful host adds a delightful touch.
Around the time that your child watches this movie, play some of Handel’s music and tell your child what it is. Ask and answer the Quick Discussion Question. If your child is very interested in the film, go through some of the other Discussion Questions.
Handel’s choral music is unsurpassed in its directness, power and effectiveness at illustrating biblical text and revealing human nature. He interweaves massive but simple harmonic passages with ingenious contrapuntal sections. His solo voices have beautiful melodic lines.
Handel was born, educated and began his early career in Lower Saxony, a part of Germany. He spent three years in Italy absorbing the Italian style of music. When he returned to Germany he served as director of music (“Kapellmeister”) for George Louis, a German prince who ruled the City of Hanover, taking frequent leaves of absence to work in London where his Italian operas were popular.
In 1714, George Louis was crowned King George I of England and Handel had no need to return to Germany. He never lived on the mainland of Europe again and he eventually became an English citizen. He sought to compose music popular with the English mass audience. His first successes were in Italian opera but later English tastes changed, and the growing middle class found these works profane. Handel suffered severe financial hardship because of his support for several unsuccessful Italian opera companies. He went heavily into debt. Finally, in about 1741, he abandoned Italian opera and switched to the oratorio and the ode. In an oratorio, a tale from the Bible, is told using orchestra, chorus and soloists. Handel brought this form of music to full development and perfected it. He also composed a wide variety of other music including orchestral and harpsichord music.
The composition of “The Messiah” in 1741 marked the end of Handel’s work in Italian opera. The premise of this film, that Handel had fallen on hard times, needed something new to revive his career, and found it in “The Messiah,” is consistent with the historical record. “The Messiah” was first performed in Dublin in 1742.
By the time of his death, Handel was considered by the English to be an English musician. He was buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey as a national hero. Handel’s music became increasingly popular in Germany which, with substantial justification, has claimed him as well. The Italians also have a musical claim on Handel because Handel’s years in Italy profoundly influenced his work throughout the rest of his life.
1. Handel was an extremely talented musician. Why did he have to fight for his audiences and change to please them?
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
1. List out the incidents of honesty and dishonesty in this film? Was any of Jamie’s lying or stealing justified?
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
2. If no one had cared about Jamie, what would have happened to him?
3. If no one had cared for Jamie’s mother, what would have happened to her?
If you feel your children can appreciate them, play a recording of “The Messiah” or perhaps Handel’s “Water Music.”
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 10, 2009.