There are plenty of George Frederick Handel freaks in this world -- just as there are postage stamp freaks, Rolling Stones freaks, or even Bach freaks.

And about 200 of Washington's Handel freaks braved the messy elements last night (why didn't they play something from the Water Music?) to fete at the Textile Museum on what would have been the mighty George Frederick's 294th birthday.

There were a few baroque touches. There was an actor dressed as King George II. The boys in the coatroom wore Georgian-style work clothes. The delicious dark-chocolate-with-black-walnuts birthday cake and the champagne were not particularly baroque. But, you know, you just can't find a good baroque caterer anymore.

The event was not mere frivolity. Its serious purpose was to form Washington's Handelians into a chapter of Friends of Handel, Inc., the New York-based group that cosponsors the annual Handel oratorio and opera series at the Kennedy Center.

Its host was Irving Palmer, president of the Friends and (since performing Handel is no way to get rich) a New York jeweler "He's the Handel buff of all Handel buffs," said an associate.

The goal is to broaden the Washington audience for Handel performances. In the first three years partrons have been loyal but sometimes patchy in number. "Next season is all booked," said Palmer. "But if we can't start having full houses after that we won't be able to keep going in Washington."

All performances are also done at Carnegie Hall in New York, where a chapter of the Friends of Handel has stimulated attendance considerably.

The organization performs the operatic oratorio "Semele" here this Sunday and last night Bulgarian soprano Mariana Paunova sang, quite glitteringly one of Juno's arias from that work about marital infidelity among the gods and goddesses. Then bass Monte Jaffe surprised everybody with a sonorous version of the spiritual "Deep River" -- perhaps its first rendition ever with harpsichord accompaniment.

For $15 one becomes a "member;" for $50, a "sponsoring member;" and for $100, a "patron member." Among the outings will be barge trips down the Potomac to the tunes of the Water Music -- just as George II entertained on the Thames. Also: private musicales, an annual party, preconcert lectures, a newsletter, among other benefits.

If the concerts continue, the group need not soon worry about running out of works to perform. Handel for years was known almost entirely for "Messian." The world is now becoming more conscious of his 19 other oratorios, 47 operas and profusion of instrumental, orchestral and organ music.