On February 23rd, 1685: George Frideric Handel, famous baroque composer, was born

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner, courtesy of WikiCommons

This day is the 328th birthday of George Frideric Handel. He was one of the great baroque musicians, and is one of the greatest British composers of all time. Except that he isn’t British at all, but German.

Handel was born on Feburary 23rd, 1685 in Halle, a town in Saxony-Anhalt, then the Duchy of Magdeburg, where he became an appointed organist at the Domkirche being only 17. However, he left Germany at the age of 25 to become Kapellmeister of the later King George the I. of England. In 1727 he was granted the British citizenship. While at first he was quite popular for his Italian style operas, like Alcina or Orlando, he later concentrated on oratorios, written in English language, of which the most famous is without doubt “The Messiah“. Other famous works include “The Water Music” and the “Music for the Royal Fireworks” as well as the oratorio “Judas Maccabeus”, from which the popular Christmas Carol “Zion’s Daughter” (which is in fact rather a hymn for Palm Sunday) is taken. One of the highlights of his career in Britain was most certainly the commission of the anthem for the coronation of King George II, “Zadok the Priest”, which is an essential part of every coronation performed since.

Through all his life, Handel was a prolific composer, his works include 42 operas, 29 oratorios, 16 organ concerts and hundreds of other works. Though he was incredibly popular, he kept his life very private, never married, and bequeathed a big part of his belongings to his servants and charities when he died, aged 74 and almost blind, on April 14th, 1759. During his lifetime and till today, he has been highly valued by his fellow musicians, eg. Bach and Mozart. His grave can be found in Westminster Cathedral.
George Frideric Handel SignatureTo celebrate the anniversary of one of my very favourite composers, I’ve searched for some interesting links you may have missed:

Start with an extended biography on Wikipedia.

Handels original name, Georg Friedrich Händel, with its typically German Umlaut is quite a problem for speakers of English. Read an insightful, but funny article about that problem: “How to handle spelling Händel“.

His legacy is preserved at the Handel House Museum at London. Visit the website (which also provides very handy synopses of his operas) or read a in-depths-interview with Museum director Sarah Bradwell.

NPR provides a nice compilation of information, a podcast and a performance of the “Messiah”, a podcast providing facts about the piece and an article called “The eternal Genius of Handel“. Smithsonian also explores “The glorious history of Handel’s Messiah“.

Read a rather enthusiastic poem dedicated to Handel’s organ playing from 1722.

Can you be so brilliant and still sane? Apparently yes, says a Psychiatrist.

Here is the text of Handel’s will.

Did you know that another great musician lived in Handel’s house centuries after his death? Read about “Jimi Hendrix and Handel: Housemates separated by time“.

See how hundreds of people celebrate Handels birthday in Halle, his birth town.

Listen to my very favorite organ concerto of Handel:

And – last but not least – enjoy the end of Handel’s famous Hallelujah from “The Messiah”. With the best organist ever. NOT. (Please don’t click this if you have sensitive ears in regard to wrong notes):

An if this is still not enough – read through hundreds of sources at the Handel reference database or read or download the Wikipedia Book on Handel here, that provides dozens of wikipedia entries on his life and works.


On February 18th, 1930: Pluto, now a dwarf planet, was discovered


Being the god of the underworld might not be on top of anyone’s career dreams. But being a celestial orb named after this god may be even worse. That’s the fate of Pluto, a tiny world of ice and rock, once the 9th planet of our solar system – now stripped of its status and remaining a dwarf planet far, far away, circling the sun in a very odd orbit, making a year lasting 248 Earth years.

Since the late 19th century it was suspected that there had to be another planet in our solar system, after the discovery of disturbances in Uranus’ orbit, but it took more than 30 years, till, at last, on February 18th, 1930, Pluto, a dot on a photo plate, was discovered. It was named after the god of the underworld (whose first two letters where, curiously enough, the initials of the man who made it his goal to discover this planet) and became the 9th planet in our system. In 2006, however, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) published a new definition of what a planet had to be like – and Pluto, till then the latest acquisition in our planetary world, met only two of three of the new criteria. And so poor Pluto became the first orb in our solar system that actually LOST the rank of a planet – which made it all the more famous after all.

Celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the discovery of this strange little fellow with a few links:

Here’s a little collection of facts about Pluto. You can also watch a very interesting video about it. Pictures, graphics and explanations are provided here, the pictures Hubble took here and another little collection of pictures here.

Pluto is not easy to deal with – read how difficult it is to map it.

Ever wondered how it would be looking from Pluto to our sun? This computer animation shows it:

This article describes why Pluto is no longer a planet.

A very special treat are these wonderful mails third graders wrote after Pluto lost his planet status, in defense of it. (Huge thanks to my friend Matthias Rascher for pointing me to it.)

In a few years, Pluto will get a visitor from planet Earth – New Horizons, a NASA spacecraft to explore the planet and the Kuyper belt. Learn about it on the NASA website.

But Pluto is not only present in the field of science, but also in the field of fiction, like this article on NBC’s Cosmic Log states.

And, last but not least, if you want to have a really special relationship to Pluto – why not name one of his newly discovered moons? (Here they are, on photos, and also in an article from TIME.)

On January 11th, 1908: Grand Canyon becomes a “national monument”

Grand Canyon

South Kaibab Trail at Cedar Ridge, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There are indeed landscapes which make you stand speechlessly and in awe when you see them for the first time. And most certainly the Grand Canyon is one of these landscapes.

It took almost 2 billion years of geological history, and a lot of different natural events, till the Colorado river had cut this 227 miles long and, in parts, 6000 feet deep canyon into the Colorado plateau as we see it today. The exact way how this happened and its real age are still discussed (read an interesting NYT article about the age debate here and visit the NPS section about geology here).

On this day in 1908 Theodore Roosevelt made the Grand Canyon a “national monument” (read more about this here). The 105th anniversary of this event makes it a good time to indulge in the beauty of one of the most amazing natural wonders of the US.

Start your exploration of the Grand Canyon with a wonderful 360° Panorama View.

Of course there are thousands of wonderful pictures of the Canyon available on the web. Here are a few links to start with:

The biggest collection, featuring not only landscape photos, but also animals, artifacts, plants, history and much more can be watched at NPS’ Flickr Pool.

Here’s another stunning collection of 35 high quality pictures and a wonderful little collection of historical photos.

You can even hear how it sounds being at the Canyon here.

An amazing and very special view into the Canyon (at least if you don’t have any fear of heights) provides the Glass Skywalk, opened in 2007, that lets you look down 4000 into the Canyon.

If you want to visit the Grand Canyon yourself, this NYT article suggests a “36 hours at the Grand Canyon” tour.

But if you are more into historical sources, you might like to read this 1917 book “The Grand Canyon. An article giving the credit of first traversing the Grand Canyon of the Colorado to James White, a Colorado gold prospector, who it is claimed maide the voyage two years previous the expedition under the direction of Maj. J. W. Powell in 1869” by Thomas F. Dawson online.

There is also a wonderful historical footage from the 1920s out there:

The Grand Canyon is not only an amazing landscape but it was home to people for a long period of time. Take a virtual tour to the archaeological excavations from 2007 to 2009 here.

At last, learn about the curious story of egyptian artifacts said to be found in the Great Canyon.

And for your visual pleasure, two wonderful videos which take you flying over and through the canyon…

with clouds….

… and without clouds.

And if there remains still a bit of curiosity: These pages will provide you with loads of further information:

One of the best resouces about the Canyon is the NPS website, with many pages and high quality information.

There is also a nice site from the University of Arizona.

Finally this vast bibliography includes more than 5000 entries about the Canyon, including a list of NYT articles, Sources for vision impaired persons and fiction.

And if you eventually know everything about the Grand Canyon, you will easily be able to take this Quiz from National Geographic 😉

On January 5th, 1933: The Golden Gate Bridge was born

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge, By Aaron Logan, from http://www.lightmatter.net/gallery/albums.php {{cc-by}

The Golden Gate Bridge is more than just a landmark. It is the stuff dreams are made of – the dreams of California – the dreams of San Francisco. It is famous all over the world and one of the great achievements of engineering in its building time. For a long time it was thought it couldn’t be built at all.

But exactly 80 years ago on this day, its construction started – and on May, 27th 1937, the opening day (here are a few transcriptions of newspaper articles about the opening), it had proofed wrong all those who had doubted. There it stands, till today, a wonderful, intricate artwork of steel and human creativity and skill.

I have searched for a few interesting links to celebrate this:

Here is a timeline of construction for you.

Read an interesting article about the history of the bridge: “The Golden Gate: ‘The bridge that couldn’t be built'”.

Enjoy a wonderful 360° panorama view in High Definition or take virtual walks.

Follow “A  guide to San Francisco in 1937, when the Golden Gate Bridge opened”, an insightful article from The Atlantic.

NPR provides an amazing podcast about the opening day: “Walk this way. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.” And Wired has a deliciously interesting article with a lot of links: “May 27, 1937: A Bridge over the Gate? Are you crazy?”

There are also a lot of stunning photos on the web, like the LIFE photo essay “Orange Crush: Life with the Golden Gate Bridge”, this very unusual one from Wharholian.com called “Urban decay on a day with the Golden Gate” and this great one from the Trans-americas.com Travel Blog.

At last, watch a wonderful documentary about its history and construction, with a lot of historical material, ca. 1950s.

And if your curiosity still isn’t satisfied, visit the Research Library Page of the Golden Gate Bridge Homepage or the PBS page dedicated to the history of the bridge.