From its beginnings the Göttingen Handel Festival has had close connections to the Georg-August-Universität. The debut performance of Handel's opera Rodelinda in 1920 is considered as the birth of the festival and also as the beginning of the so-called "Handel Renaissance". This rediscovery was mostly owed to the personal commitment of Göttingen art historian and musicologist Oskar Hagen. He had occupied him-self with Handel scores as a pastime during a lengthy time of illness. Together with his wife, who was a so-prano singer, and a friend who was a cellist he had initially performed operas during music-making in private homes which was popular with Göttingen professors at the time; later he decided to bring Rodelinda to the stage, performing before a broader public.
The performance of Rodelinda in 1920 and of the operas Ottone, Giulio Cesare, Xerxes, Ezio, and Rad-amisto in the six years to follow gave a decisive impulse towards the world-wide rediscovery of Handel's op-eras which had been buried in oblivion for about 200 years. For the first few performances, Oskar Hagen made use of the resources available to him through the University. The lay actors of the first Rodelinda per-formance were recruited from among university colleagues and students. The orchestral accompaniment was provided by the Akademische Orchestervereinigung ("Academic Orchestra Association") with Oskar Hagen as its conductor.
During the first years, the Göttinger Universitätsbund ("University Association") hosted these events. In 1931 the Göttingen Handel Society was founded as the official supporting organisation for the purpose of holding the Handel Festival regularly, managing it institutionally, and organising it reliably. However, the close rela-tionship with Göttingen University did not end after the founding of the Handel Society. A noteworthy exam-ple of this relationship is the commitment of former University President Professor Dr. h. c. Hans-Ludwig Schreiber who has been the chairman of the Handel Society since 1993.
Other (current and former) members of University staff are involved with the Handel festival and the Handel Society, holding talks, introductions to works, or symposia. Göttingen University has demonstrated its special closeness to Handel, his interpreters, and the Handel Society by awarding an honorary professorship to the artistic director of the festival, Nicholas McGegan, in June 2006. This distinguished conductor and musician has since been contributing his knowledge in musicological courses at Göttingen University, dealing primarily with opera performance practice in the 17th and 18th century, the history of the reception of Handel's works, and the influences of baroque composers on Viennese Classicism.