GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL was a rich man who made his money not only as one of the two greatest composers of his time, (the other of course being Johann Sebastian Bach born the same year, 1685) but also by shrewd investments of that money. In 1750 he withdrew L8,000 from the Bank of England and bought several paintings, including a large Rembrandt. It was one of two by the Dutch master in Handel's estate when he died nine years later.

But by 1750 Handel had already been rich for a long time. In 1715, when he was just 30, he invested L500 in the South Sea Company, an outfit Paul Henry Lang, in his historic Handel biography, calls "the hottest stock of the day." By the way, if you have ever been taken in by reports that Handel went broke several times, Lang says that is another rumor without foundation: "Never at any time was Handel bankrupt financially."

Think for a moment of the bank account and stock portfolio Handel would have built up had he lived in this century! No piece of classical music, probably no piece of any kind of music, has been performed and is performed as often as "Messiah," if not complete, certainly in its Christmas and Easter portions. Handel was also the greatest and most often performed opera composer of his time. He owned his own opera house, booked his own highly paid stars, and banked the substantial profits.

One of the ironies of history is the lopsided impact, for all its undeniable inspiration, of "Messiah." If you ask Handel experts to name the greatest works of Handel they are very likely to mention the opera "Julius Caesar," the pastoral drama "Acis and Galatea" or the oratorio "Israel in Egypt." And there are good reasons to champion, from among the shorter works, the incomparable Coronation Anthem that begins, "Zadok the Priest." This was the anthem Handel wrote in 1727 for the coronation of George II and Queen Caroline. With the simplest harmonic and melodic means, Handel created a work of irresistible power that has been sung at the coronation of every English monarch from that time to today.

All four of the coronation anthems, together with "Messiah," as well as organ concerti, concerti grossi, and the Italian duets are going to be performed at the University of Maryland during its first annual Handel Festival, being held on the College Park campus Nov. 6, 7, and 8. Futhermore, there will be a symposium at the Library of Congress, under the aegis of the Maryland Festival, during which such notable Handel scholars as Paul Henry Lang, Winton Dean, and Jens Peter Larsen will discuss "Handel as Dramatist -- Oratorio and Opera."

Paul Traver, director of choral activities at the university, is the artistic director of the festival. With the 300th anniversary of Handel's birth coming up, like those of Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, in 1985, the university has made the right move at the ideal time. Questons about the festival can be directed to 454-4183.