Saturday, July 26, 2014

Handel - Organ Concerto In D Minor, HWV 304

With modern day technology and state of the art communication capabilities, events that happen anywhere can be flashed across the world for all to know as soon as they happen, often times while the event is still happening.  But the speed at which this can happen is a relatively modern thing. Not that many years ago the communication capabilities we now take for granted did not exist. Within my own lifetime the strides in communication technology have been tremendous.  Looking back to the time of the Baroque era composers, a time period that corresponds roughly the years 1600-1750,  it may appear that it was a primitive time, for without modern means of communication the 'world' for most people was the distance they could walk or ride a horse in a day.

But the arrogance of modern times can prevent us from understanding that there was and has been a great deal of communication between different regions of the world for many centuries. Of course one of the main differences between now and then is the time it took to travel or communicate. A trip across the open sea took months (or longer)  in a wind-driven ship, but exploration (most often fueled by commerce) assured that sooner or later the world would be interconnected. 

In Europe in the middle of the 18th century, the dissemination of music was greatly aided by the advances in music printing made in Italy, and soon the music styles of different countries that had evolved were being discovered by musicians. J.S. Bach knew of the latest trends in French and Italian music, and composers such as Vivaldi were having an impact on the music of other countries.  The German composer Georg Philip Telemann's music was also being widely distributed with the printing of his Tafelmusik or Table Music, a multi-volume set of music pieces in most of the genres of the Baroque era; vocal works, sonatas, suites and overtures. As most of these works were for small ensembles (the Baroque orchestra itself seldom had more than eighteen players), tradition had it that they might be performed as background music while the aristocracy dined and entertained.  As Telemann was also a shrewd businessman, he may have used the traditional title with the thought of improving sales.

Georg Telemann
Telemann engraved and published these works himself. They were issued in separate volumes and those that could afford them subscribed to the ongoing series. They were printed in Hamburg, and Telemann had over 250 subscribers to the collection, with many outside of Germany. No doubt the new installments came to the subscribers at a snail's pace, but they did arrive. One of the non-German subscribers lived in London, England; George Handel.

All of which is by way of introduction to the Organ Concerto In D Minor, HWV 304.  Handel used parts of Telemann's Tafelmusik to create this organ concerto. Handel was notorious for cribbing previously written music (sometimes his own, sometimes others) for his new compositions. Music was a fleeting commodity at the time. The public was hungry for new music; music was only good for a single performance in some cases, and Handel was nothing if not a composer for the public. So the dictates of time, and the conventions of the era, led him to borrow and otherwise arrange music for his own use.

Handel's appearance at the organ during intermissions of his operas and oratorios probably sold as many tickets as the operas or oratorios themselves.  He wrote the concerto in 1746 for use with the premiere of his new oratorio Occasional Oratorio (which was put together slap-dash and contained some of Telemann's music, with most of it previously written music by Handel).  Contrary to Handel's usual practice of following the 4-movement concerto grosso form for his organ concertos, this one is in three movements:

Andante - This movement is taken from the opening movement of Telemann's Flute Sonata from Tafelmusik Part One.  The original is in B minor, Handel transcribes his arrangement to D minor.

Organo ad libitum - Fuga -  As the organ concertos were for Handel's own use, there is usually a movement in each that is so marked. In the spirit of the organ concertos, this was the time for Handel to showcase his tremendous organ playing and extemporizing abilities, so stylistically this movement needs to be of a substantial length. Handel would hardly play a few chords to lead up to the next movement. He was more of a showman than that. Handel was inconsistent as to what he wrote out for the organist to play. Sometimes he wrote out a figured bass, sometimes the melody, in some of his personal copies of the concertos he jotted down a few scribbles to help him remember, and sometimes he wrote out nothing. It is up to the player to fill in, and as there was only one Handel, the ad libitum sections in an organ concerto can be something of a problem that is solved by various means. Some players are up to the task to invent what amounts to a cadenza for soloist, while others opt to play other music that Handel wrote.  No single approach is ideal, that is why performances of the organ concertos can vary widely in the approach the organist takes.

Allegro - The final movement is taken from 4th movement of the same flute sonata. It is in 9/8 time, and has the character of a gigue, or jig, a typical form used for the end movement of a suite or other multi-movement work in the Baroque era.

No comments:

Post a Comment