Composers Datebook®

Handel and 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba'

Composers Datebook - March 17, 2024


One of Handel’s “greatest hits” had its premiere on today’s date in 1749 at London’s Covent Garden Theatre, as part of his new biblical oratorio, Solomon.

The text of Handel’s oratorio praises the legendary Hebrew king’s piety in Part 1, his wisdom in Part 2 and the splendor of his royal court in Part 3.

As the instrumental introduction to the third part of Solomon, Handel composed a jaunty sinfonia he titled “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.” In the Book of Kings, the Queen of Sheba travels from afar to visit the splendid court of King Solomon, arriving, as the Bible puts it, “with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, very much gold, and precious stones.”

Handel’s music admirably captures the excitement of a lavish state visit of an exotic foreign queen, and first-night London audiences would have had no problem reading into Handel’s depiction of an elaborate compliment of their reigning monarch, King George II.

Speaking of reigning monarchs, at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, Handel’s Sinfonia was used to accompany a video of James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) arriving at Buckingham Palace, where 007 was received by Queen Elizabeth II.

Music Played in Today's Program

George Frederic Handel (1685-1757): excerpt from ‘Solomon’; English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner, cond. Philips 412 612

On This Day


  • 1839 - German composer Josef Rheinberger, in Vaduz, Liechtenstein

  • 1920 - American composer John LaMontaine, in Chicago


  • 1862 - French opera composer Jacques François Halévy, 62, in Nice


  • 1733 - Handel: oratorio Deborah in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: March 28)

  • 1846 - Verdi: opera Atilla, in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice

  • 1867 - Brahms: Waltzes, Op. 39, for piano, in Vienna

  • 1879 - Tchaikovsky: opera Eugene Onegin, in Moscow (Gregorian date: March 29)

  • 1882 - Glazunov: Symphony No. 1, in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: March 29)

  • 1892 - Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 1 (first movement only) (Gregorian date: March 29)

  • 1945 - Miakovsky: Cello Concerto, in Moscow

  • 1951 - Dessau: opera Die Verhör des Lukullus (The Sentencing of Lucullus), in East Berlin at the Deutsche Staatsoper (Berlin State Opera); This opera was revised as Die Verurteilung des Lukullus (The Judgement of Lucullus) at the same theater on October 12, 1851; The libretto is by German poet and playwright Bertold Brecht

  • 1954 - Quincy Porter: Concerto Concertante for two pianos and orchestra, in Louisville, KY; This work won that year's Pulitzer Prize for Music

  • 1967 - Levy: opera Mourning Becomes Electra (after the play by Eugene O'Neill) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City

  • 1972 - Crumb: Vox balaenae for three masked musicians, in Washington, D.C.

  • 2002 - Paul Schoenfield: Partita for violin and piano, at a Chamber Music Society of Minnesota concert in St. Paul, by violinist Young-Nam Kim, with the composer at the piano


  • 1830 - Frederic Chopin makes his concert debut in Warsaw, performing his own Piano Concerto in f-minor.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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