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ClassicsOnline Home » HANDEL: Harpsichord Suites Nos. 6 - 8
"To find such superbly impulsive and sweepingly assured performances of the Serenade for strings and Souvenir de Florence offered first-time-out on CD at odd is rather astonishing. Philippe Entremont has conducted the Vienna Chamber Orchestra for 15 years and the depth of the relationship is amply evident in these 1990 recordings which overflow with shared fun and feeling. No qualifications needed here."
George Frideric Handel (1685- 1759)
Suite No.6 in F Sharp Minor
Suite No.7 in G Minor
Suite No.8 in F Minor Capriccio in F Major
Suite No.4 in D Minor (Second Collection)
Sonatina in D Minor
Sonata in G Minor
Toccata in G Minor
Air and Variations
When the thirty-five year old Handel set about making an authorative edition
of his finest harpsichord music in London, he claimed he was "obliged to
publish ...because surrepticious and incorrect copies ...had got abroad" -
referring to a pirate edition which had appeared in Amsterdam. Handel's new 1720
publication of Eight Suites is drawn from a stock of work which goes back in
some instances to his teenage years in Hamburg. Only the Allemande and Courante
of the third suite were newly composed. Otherwise, it is clear from the
manuscript sources that the bulk of it was composed by 1717/18, and that after
1720 Handel virtually abandoned keyboard solo composition.
As a boy Handel had received his early training from the organist Zachau at
his birth place, Hallé. In 1698 the student assembled and dated a manuscript
music book of works composed by his own master together with those other 17th
century German composers whose influence we can detect in his own earliest
surviving compositions. In 1703 he went to Hamburg, remaining for three years.
In 1705 his opera Almira was performed there, and in it are found certain
distinctive cadence patterns which may also be discovered in some of the pieces
of keyboard music. They may be judged to be contemporaneous, as the cadences are
not found in later works. Probably Handel earned part of his living in Hamburg
by giving harpsichord lessons. As was customary, he must have written music for
his public to play. Nor was the organ - for which he was to write the first
concertos - forgotten at this time - several pieces ‘work’ on either
There is an interesting anecdote related by Johan Mattheson, who was also
employed with Handel at the Hamburg Opera. In 1703, aged 21, Mattheson relates
how he and Handel "travelled together on the 17th August of that year to
Lübeck, and in the coach we composed many double fugues - in our heads, not
written down ...There we played almost all the organs and harpsichords and we
arrived at a particular conclusion with respect to our playing ...namely, that
he wanted to play only the organ and I the harpsichord"
The reason for their journey was to visit Dietrich Buxtehude, then aged 66,
who, having served for 35 years as organist at St. Mary's, was looking for a
successor who would also marry his eldest daughter. Neither of these two
prospective candidates seems to have fancied the idea.
The five splendid fugues found in the harpsichord suites put us in mind of
the budding 18-year old on his coach trip. In their maturer manifestations
Handel's fugues are not inferior, despite their looseness of part-writing, to
those of Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier. The dramatic juxtaposition of
different kinds of texture at the beginning of the F minor Fugue moreover alerts
us to the characteristically physical feel of Handel's writing for the
harpsichord. And Handel's notation -particularly in the preludes -signals to the
player the liberty to bring the fantasy of his own fingers in to play what
Mattheson was to call the "Stylus Phantasticus" and contrasts well
with the rigidly structured fugues they made up in their heads.
The Roman Diary of Francesco Valesio for 14 Jan. 1707 tells us that
"There has arrived in this city a Saxon who is an excellent harpsichord
player and composer of music - who today exhibited his process by playing the
organ at St. John Lateran, to the astonishment of everybody."
At 22 Handel shows us in his early Italian-period works that he had
completely assimilated the French and Italian styles of instrumental music. Both
are boldly juxtaposed in his harpsichord suites Nos. 2 and 6 and part of No.7
were originally Italianate sonatas. Handel did not strictly adhere to the form
of the French dance-suite, so Variations and Chaconnes are found, as well as
Adagios and Allegros.
In the first biography of the composer, published in 1760, John Mainwaring
tells us that "Handel had an uncommon brilliancy and command of finger, but
w hat distinguished him from all other players who possessed these same
qualities was that amazing fulness, force and energy which he joined with them.
And this observation may be applied with as much justness to his compositions,
as to his playing."
The Suite No.4 in D Minor comes from the second collection published
by Walsh in 1733. The smaller pieces are taken from Handel's many keyboard
compositions none of which can be dated with any precision though it is
generally thought that most were written before 1720.
Alan Cuckston was born in England and now lives in Yorkshire, the county of
his birth. He studied music at King's College, Cambridge and took a B Mus. in
Performance and Palaeography. As a pupil of the late Thurston Dart, Mr. Cuckston
developed his enthusiasm for early English music. He is now a well-known
harpsichordist and has made many recordings for RCA and Swinsty Records.
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HANDEL: Harpsichord Suites Nos. 6 - 8