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8.550157 - HANDEL: Concerti Grossi Op. 3, No. 3 and Op. 6, Nos. 4-6
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
Concerto Grosso in G Major Op. 3 No.3
George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685. the son of an elderly barber-surgeon of some distinction and his second wife. Destined by his father for a career of greater distinction than music seemed able to provide, he was permitted to study music only through the intervention of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, at whose court his father served, and after his father's death proceeded briefly to the University of Halle. After combining the study of law with a position as organist in the Calvinist cathedral for a year, he abandoned further study in 1703 to work as a musician in Hamburg, where he played second violin in the opera orchestra, later taking his place as harpsichordist and writing his first Italian operas, which were produced in February, 1705.
A meeting with Prince Ferdinando de' Medici, heir to the Grand Duke of Florence, led to an invitation to Italy, where Handel moved in 1706, remaining there until 1710 and winning for himself an increasing reputation as a keyboard-player and as a composer, although to Corelli, in Rome, his style appeared to be too French. Nevertheless it was Italy that decisively influenced his musical language and as a composer of Italian opera that he was to make his earlier career in England.
Handel had spent time in various cities in Italy and in Venice had met Baron Kielmansegge, Master of Horses to the Elector of Hanover, and members of the ruling family. It was through the Baron's agency that he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector, an appointment that he took up in the summer of 1710, stipulating immediate leave to visit England, where he provided the music for Aaron Hill's ambitious opera Rinaldo, mounted at the then Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket, and the subject of satirical comment from Addison and Steele in The Spectator. The following year he returned to Hanover, where he remained for fifteen months before permission was given once more for a visit to England. From 1712 he was to settle permanently there.
Handel was, of course, a composer of considerable versatility. He had already written a large amount of music of all kinds. In London he was associated immediately with the Italian opera and under royal patronage wrote music for the court and for the church, quickly learning from the work of Purcell something of the English church style. The death of Queen Anne and the succession of the Elector of Hanover to the English throne as George I might have caused some embarrassment, since Handel was still nominally the Elector's Kapellmeister, absent without leave. He was, however, to enjoy the new king's favour soon enough, proof, if any were needed, of the apocryphal nature of the story about the Water Music, through which it was alleged King and Kapellmeister were reconciled.
Handel was to enjoy extraordinary popularity in England, where he long remained a dominant figure in music, at the expense of native talent. The fortunes of the Italian opera waned, through the expense of the genre, coupled with an insular prejudice against anything so foreign, a bias that the great success of The Beggar's Opera, with its highwayman anti-hero, did much to increase. Handel turned his attention in the 1730s to the creation of a form of music particularly well suited to the English, the oratorio, which had the advantage of English rather than Italian words and could provide what was essentially an operatic entertainment, at least as far as the music went, without the expense of elaborate staging, while satisfying the religious proclivities of his audiences.
With the 1740s Handel turned away from opera entirely. In 1742 Messiah received its first performances, followed by a series of oratorios, principally sacred but occasionally on secular subjects, the last of which, Jephtha, was given its first performance at Covent Garden in 1752. He continued to be actively involved in the London concert seasons until his death in 1759. His powerful influence was to live on in England, where he was to be regarded primarily as the composer of great choral works, to be sung by choirs of increasingly large proportions. and as a musician who shared the religious susceptibilities and enthusiasms of the later eighteenth century and its heirs. This posthumous reputation has to some extent obscured Handel's real character, his craftsmanship, his melodic gifts and invention and his humour.
In 1734 John Walsh published a set of six Concerti grossi by Handel as Opus 3. The origin and scoring of these works were equally various. The third of the set, which makes use of a solo flute or oboe, a solo violin and string orchestra, with the usual basso continuo, has its sources in one of the so-called Chandos Anthems, composed in 1717 and 1718 at Cannons, Edgware for James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon, created Duke of Chandos in 1719, and in a movement from a keyboard suite. It opens with the briefest of introductions, followed by a lively Allegro, in which solo instruments are contrasted with the body of the orchestra, the ripieno players. There is a short slow movement in which the solo wind instrument provides a characteristic melody, leading to the busy fugal movement with which the concerto ends.
The set of twelve Concerti grossi published by Walsh in 1740 as Opus 6 forms a more coherent and unified group of works. The concerti were written more or less in the order in which they appeared in the published version and scored for strings and continuo, with a concertino solo group of two violins and cello contrasted, in traditional concerto grosso style, with the main body of the orchestra, the ripieno. Handel later began to add oboe parts, but these were never completed and presumably never used.
Opus 6 No.5, the Concerto grosso in D major, begins with a French Overture, a movement that has a solemn, slow introduction, followed by a livelier fugal section. An even quicker movement follows, before the simpler texture of a slow movement, a rapid orchestral movement and a final Minuet.
The sixth concerto of the set, the Concerto grosso in G minor, starts once again with a slow introductory movement, followed by a fugue. The third movement bears the title Musette, suggesting the drone bass of the elegant French bagpipe, from which Handel soon departs. The last two movements are both marked Allegro, the first based on a widely spaced theme and the second in the manner of a court dance.
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