About this Recording
8.550158 - HANDEL: Concerti Grossi Op. 6, Nos. 8, 10 and 12

George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)

Concerto Grosso in C minor Opus 6 No.8
Concerto Grosso in D minor Opus 6 No.10
Concerto Grosso in B minor Opus 6 No.12
Concerto Grosso in C major (Alexander's Feast)

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 Horse 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 active involvement 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 his Concerti grossi Handel was using a form that had been established in the late seventeenth century, particularly through composers such as Corelli, with whom he had played during his time in Rome. The set of twelve Concerti grossi that form Opus 6, published in London by John Walsh in 1740, use, as Corelli and many of his successors had done, a small solo group of two violins and cello in contrast with the rest of the string orchestra. An earlier set of similar works, published in 1734 and using wind instruments in addition to strings and basso continuo, had been derived from a variety of earlier sources. The Opus 6 concerti were all written with a direct view to their publication and were composed consecutively between 29th September and 20th October 1739.

Opus 6 No.8, in C minor, opens with an Allemande, the French court dance that had become an established introduction to the Baroque instrumental dance suite. A very short slow movement leads to music that has a lively enough opening figure, over a steadily walking rhythm in the bass. There is a further slow interlude that leads to a Siciliana, a dance derived remotely from the shepherd dances of Sicily, its pastoral origin suggesting an association with Christmas that Corelli and his contemporaries had exploited. To this Handel adds a brief and cheerful postscript.

The Concerto grosso in D minor, Opus 6 No.10, opens with a French overture, a slow introduction in dotted rhythm, followed by the usual fugue. There is a solemn Aire, a briefly imitative Allegro, a fugal movement and a final dance.

The last of the set, Opus 6 No.12, in B minor, starts with the suggestion, at least, of an overture, an introductory Largo, followed by a livelier section of imitative writing. There is a short slow movement, in a texture of only three parts, as opposed to the usual four-part writing, and this is expanded in a following variation, over a moving bass. The two solo violins of the concertino and the solo cello weave their own pattern in a further slow movement, before the final fugal Allegro.

The Concerto grosso in C major included in the present release was written in 1736 for the oratorio Alexander's Feast, a setting of John Dryden's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, reminding us that the oratorios of Handel's time were normally expanded by the addition of instrumental concerti of one sort or another. Alexander's Feast in fact included, at its first performance at Covent Garden on 19th February, 1736, a concerto for lute and harp, appropriate enough considering the words set, and an organ concerto, as well as the so-called Alexander's Feast Concerto, which was played in the interval. The work, which is scored for oboes, strings and continuo, follows a lively opening movement with a Largo in which the solo instruments enter in imitation. There is a fugal Allegro and a gently lilting conclusion, that would have led into Act II of the oratorio.

Capella Istropolitana
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its name drawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the historic university established in the Slovak and one-time Hungarian capital by Matthias Corvinus, the orchestra works principally in the recording studio. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.

Josef Kopelman
Josef Kopelman was born in the Russian town of Uzhgorog in 1947 and studied the violin at the Conservatory in Kiev, later occupying the position of leader of the Kiev Chamber Orchestra. He joined the Slovak Chamber Orchestra in 1976, and now continues his career as a soloist and as a conductor. He has recorded for Opus and for Melodiya.

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