HANDEL: Concerti Grossi Op. 6, Nos. 8, 10 and 12 (Capella Istropolitana/ Gunter Appenheimer/ Jozef Kopelman) (Naxos: 8.550158)
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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'sFeast)
George Frideric Handel was born in Hallein 1685, the son of an elderly barber-surgeon of some distinction and hissecond wife. Destined by his father for a career of greater distinction thanmusic seemed able to provide, he was permitted to study music only through theintervention 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 Calvinistcathedral for a year, he abandoned further study in 1703 to work as a musicianin Hamburg, where he played second violin in the opera orchestra, later takinghis place as harpsichordist and writing his first Italian operas, which wereproduced 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 himselfan increasing reputation as a keyboard-player and as a composer, although toCorelli, in Rome, his style appeared to be too French. Nevertheless it wasItaly that decisively influenced his musical language and as a composer ofItalian opera that he was to make his earlier career in England.
Handel had spent time in various citiesin Italy and in Venice had met Baron Kielmansegge, Master of Horse to theElector of Hanover, and members of the ruling family. It was through theBaron's agency that he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector, anappointment that he took up in the summer of 1710, stipulating immediate leaveto 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 ofsatirical comment from Addison and Steele in The Spectator. The following yearhe returned to Hanover, where he remained for fifteen months before permissionwas given once more for a visit to England. From 1712 he was to settlepermanently there.
Handel was, of course, a composer ofconsiderable versatility. He had already written a large amount of music of allkinds. In London he was associated immediately with the Italian opera and underroyal patronage wrote music for the court and for the church, quickly learningfrom the work of Purcell something of the English church style. The death ofQueen Anne and the succession of the Elector of Hanover to the English throneas George I might have caused some embarrassment, since Handel was stillnominally 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 theapocryphal nature of the story about the Water Music, through which it wasalleged King and Kapellmeister were reconciled.
Handel was to enjoy extraordinarypopularity in England, where he long remained a dominant figure in music, atthe expense of native talent. The fortunes of the Italian opera waned, throughthe expense of the genre, coupled with an insular prejudice against anything soforeign, a bias that the great success of The Beggar's Opera, with itshighwayman anti-hero, did much to increase. Handel turned his attention in the1730s to the creation of a form of music particularly well suited to theEnglish, the oratorio, which had the advantage of English rather than Italianwords and could provide what was essentially an operatic entertainment, atleast as far as the music went, without the expense of elaborate staging, whilesatisfying the religious proclivities of his audiences.
With the 1740s Handel turned away fromopera entirely. In 1742 Messiah received its first performances, followed by aseries of oratorios, principally sacred but occasionally on secular subjects,the last of which, Jephtha, was given its first performance at Covent Garden in1752. He continued active involvement in the London concert seasons until hisdeath in 1759. His powerful influence was to live on in England, where he wasto be regarded primarily as the composer of great choral works, to be sung bychoirs of increasingly large proportions, and as a musician who shared thereligious susceptibilities and enthusiasms of the later eighteenth century andits heirs. This posthumous reputation has to some extent obscured Handel's realcharacter, his craftsmanship, his melodic gifts and invention and his humour.
In his Concerti grossi Handel wasusing a form that had been established in the late seventeenth century,particularly through composers such as Corelli, with whom he had played duringhis 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 hissuccessors had done, a small solo group of two violins and cello in contrastwith the rest of the string orchestra. An earlier set of similar works,published in 1734 and using wind instruments in addition to strings and bassocontinuo, had been derived from a variety of earlier sources. The Opus 6concerti were all written with a direct view to their publication and werecomposed 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 establishedintroduction to the Baroque instrumental dance suite. A very short slowmovement leads to music that has a lively enough opening figure, over a steadilywalking rhythm in the bass. There is a further slow interlude that leads to aSiciliana, a dance derived remotely from the shepherd dances of Sicily, itspastoral origin suggesting an association with Christmas that Corelli and hiscontemporaries had exploited. To this Handel adds a brief and cheerfulpostscript.
The Concerto grosso in D minor, Opus 6No.10, opens with a French overture, a slowintroduction 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, inB minor, starts with the suggestion, at least, of an overture, anintroductory Largo, followed by a livelier section of imitative writing. Thereis a short slow movement, in a texture of only three parts, as opposed to theusual four-part writing, and this is expanded in a following variation, over amoving bass. The two solo violins of the concertino and the solo cello weavetheir own pattern in a further slow movement, before the final fugal Allegro.
The Concerto grosso in C major includedin the present release was written in 1736 for the oratorio Alexander'sFeast, a setting of John Dryden's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, reminding usthat the oratorios of Handel's time were normally expanded by the addition ofinstrumental concerti of one sort or another. Alexander's Feast in factincluded, at its first performance at Covent Garden on 19th February, 1736, aconcerto for lute and harp, appropriate enough considering the words set, andan 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, stringsand continuo, follows a lively opening movement with a Largo in which the soloinstruments enter in imitation. There is a fugal Allegro and a gently liltingconclusion, that would have led into Act II of the oratorio.
The Capella Istropolitana was