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ClassicsOnline Home » HANDEL: Concerti Grossi Op. 3, No. 3 and Op. 6, Nos. 4-6
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George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
Concerto Grosso in G Major Op. 3 No.3
Concerto Grosso in A Minor Op. 6 No.4
Concerto Grosso in D Major Op. 6 No.5
Concerto Grosso in G Minor Op. 6 No.6
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
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
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
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.
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 orchestra works in the
recording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. 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.
Jozef 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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HANDEL: Concerti Grossi Op. 3, No. 3 and Op. 6, No...