1759 — George Frideric Handel dies

Handel was 74 years old at the time of his death. Unmarried, he left much of his estate to a niece. He had experienced loss of vision after a botched cataract operation eight years earlier, which had curtailed his output.

Handel’s musical compositions included 42 operas, 29 oratorios, numerous arias, chamber music, a large number of ecumenical pieces, odes and serenatas, 16 organ concerti and more than 120 cantatas, trios and duets. His best known work is the Messiah oratorio, which featured the Hallelujah Chorus. Handel was an unusual composer. Influenced by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the middle-German polyphonic choral traditions, he also introduced a range of unusual instruments into his compositions, including the viola d’amore, violetta marina, lute, trombone, clarinet, small high cornet, theorbo, horn, lyrichord, double bassoon, viola da gamba, bell chimes, positive organ and harp – many of which would become more commonly used by composers and musicians as a result of Handel’s popularisation of them.

Referenced in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

1865 — Abraham Lincoln is fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth was a well-known actor – and less well-known Confederate spy – who was not actually performing in “Our American Cousin” on the fateful night. It was the merest chance that he even knew Lincoln would be there, Booth only learning this because the theatre was also his mailing address. But once he learned of the president’s planned visit earlier the same day, Booth resolved that the time had come to do something “decisive”.

Lincoln, for his part, had foregone his usual security precautions on the night. At the time of his assassination (about 10:25 PM), Lincoln was not guarded, his bodyman for the evening having gone to a nearby tavern for some drinks. Booth shot the president in the back of the head as Lincoln laughed at the funniest line in the play (Booth had timed this carefully, hoping that the crowd’s noise would cover the gunshot). The wound was mortal, although Lincoln did not die until nearly 7:30 the next morning. Booth fled into the night, but was eventually caught and died in a shootout on April 26.

Referenced in:
Abraham Lincoln — Clutch