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8.571208 - HANDEL, G.F.: Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, Nos. 1, 6 and 9 / VIVALDI, A. / BACH, C.P.E.: Flute Concertos (Goff, Seattle Symphony, Schwarz)
George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685, the son of an elderly barber-surgeon of some distinction and his second wife. After his father’s death he briefly attended the University of Halle, combining the study of law with a position as organist in the Calvinist cathedral, but abandoned further study in 1703 to work as a musician in Hamburg, as a violinist, then harpsichordist and composer at the opera. In 1706 he moved to Italy, remaining there until 1710 and winning for himself an increasing reputation as a keyboard-player and as a composer. A meeting in Venice with Baron Kielmansegge, Master of Horses to the Elector of Hanover, led to his appointment as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, the future George I of England, a position that he took up in the summer of 1710, stipulating immediate leave to visit England. There he provided the music for Aaron Hill’s ambitious opera Rinaldo. 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. In London he was associated immediately with the Italian opera and under royal patronage wrote music for the court and for the church. He was to enjoy extraordinary popularity in England, where he long remained a dominant figure in music, at the expense of native talent. As the fortunes of the Italian opera waned, 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.
Handel’s first set of six Concerti grossi, published in 1734 as Opus 3, includes works drawn from a variety of sources. It was with his Concerti grossi of 1740, however, that he provided a planned set of twelve works. These were written more or less in the order in which they appeared in publication, scored for a concertino solo group of two violins and cello, contrasted, in traditional concerto grosso style, with the main body of the string orchestra and continuo, the ripieno. Handel later began to add oboe parts, perhaps for theatre use, but these were never completed.
The Concerto Grosso in G major, Op 6, No 1, starts with a movement apparently derived from a planned overture to the opera Imeneo, its final dominant chord leading directly to the following Allegro, with its continuing contrasts between concertino and ripieno. An E minor Adagio leads to a fugal Allegro and a final dance-like movement in 6/8.
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.
The ninth of the set, the Concerto Grosso in F major, opens with a slow introduction, followed by an Allegro that contrast the solo instruments with the body of the orchestra. The third movement is in the rhythm of a Siciliano and the fourth is fugal. The Menuet starts in F minor, but ends with the major key, and the work ends with a Gigue.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
A native of Venice, Antonio Vivaldi was distinguished as a violinist and as a composer, in the latter capacity amazingly prolific, with some fifty operas and over five hundred concertos to his credit. Ordained priest in 1703, for much of his life he was associated with the Ospedale della Pietà, one of the four famous foundations in Venice for the education of orphan, illegitimate or indigent girls, a select group of whom were trained as musicians. At the Pietà he served as violin-master and subsequently as Maestro de’Concerti, director of instrumental music. By 1740, however, Venice had begun to grow tired of Vivaldi, and shortly after the performance of concertos specially written as part of a serenata for the entertainment of the young Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxony his impending departure was announced to the governors of the Pietà, who were asked, and at first refused, to buy some of his concertos. The following year he travelled to Vienna, where he arrived in June, and had time to sell some of the scores he had brought with him, before succumbing to some form of stomach inflammation. He died a month to the day after his arrival and was buried the same day with as little expense as possible. As was remarked in Venice, he had once been worth 50,000 ducats a year, but through his extravagance he died in poverty.
In about 1728 Le Cène published in Amsterdam as Opus 10 a set of six concertos for flute by Vivaldi. The third of the set, with the additional title Il Gardellino (The Goldfinch) and in D major is based on other works, dating from earlier in the decade. The association with the bird of the title is immediately apparent in the opening Allegro, leading to a second movement Siciliano for flute and continuo only, followed by a final Allegro.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788)
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born in Weimar, the second son by his first wife of Johann Sebastian Bach, then newly appointed Konzertmeister to the Grand Duke Wilhelm Ernst. He attended the Latin School in Cöthen, where his father became Court Kapellmeister in 1717, and in 1723 moved with the family to Leipzig, where he became a pupil at the Thomasschule, on the staff of which his father had become Cantor. In 1731 he matriculated as a law student at the University of Leipzig, embarking on a course of study that had been denied his father. He continued these studies at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, and in 1738, rejecting the chance of accompanying a young gentleman on a tour abroad, entered the service of the Crown Prince of Prussia at Ruppin as harpsichordist. He moved with the court to Berlin in 1740, on the accession to the throne of the Prince, better known subsequently as Frederick the Great.
In Berlin and at Potsdam, Bach, confirmed as Court Harpsichordist, had the unenviable task of accompanying evening concerts at which the King, an able enough amateur flautist, was a frequent performer. It was not until 1768 that he was able to escape from a position that he had found increasingly uncongenial, succeeding his godfather Telemann as Cantor at the Johanneum in Hamburg, a city that offered much wider opportunities than Leipzig had ever done. He spent the last twenty years of his life there. Regarded as the leading keyboard-player of his day, he continued to enjoy an established position as a man of wide general education, able to mix on equal terms with the leading writers of his generation and no mere working musician. He died in 1788, his death mourned by a generation that thought of him as more important than his father.
As a composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was prolific, writing a considerable quantity of music for the harpsichord and for the instrument he much favoured, the clavichord. It was perhaps through the exigencies of his position in Berlin that he came to arrange some of his harpsichord concertos for other instruments, particularly for fl ute, for cello and, in some cases, for oboe. It has been suggested that his Flute Concerto in D minor, H 426, written in 1747, is the original version of what then became the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, Wq.22. The work, which survives in a manuscript once in the possession of the King’s sister, Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia, was perhaps written for the King himself, as the solo part might at first suggest. The opening Allegro, with its arpeggio patterns and lesser demands for virtuosity, is followed by a serene D major movement that brings brief moments of drama in hints of recitative, and a short cadenza. The original key is restored in the vigorous and exciting final Allegro di molto, with its immediate sense of menace, leading to more challenging solo writing.
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