Friday, March 31, 2017

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

No. 244 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

A third Friday in March is the opportunity for me to program a third montage this month, building upon this past Tuesday’s post of music by George Frederic Handel.

Due cori (literally : "two choirs"), means in fact that two distinct ensembles of wind instruments are deployed, each composed of a bassoon, two oboes (and, for the concerto HWV 333, two horns), along with a contingent of strings and the basso continuo.

Handel wrote three such concerti, to be performed as interludes during certain oratorios in English, following the example of his organ concertos. Their composition dates back approximately to the years 1747-48. The concerto I chose to open the montage, HWV 333, is made up of 6 movements, four of which recycle music from other works (you will recognize a few, I’m sure!).

Handel's keyboard suite no. 5 in E major, HWV 430, was one of the first works for harpsichord published by Handel and is made up of four movements. The final movement (Air and variations) is better known for its nickname, ”The Harmonious Blacksmith”. There have been a number of explanations proffered as to why this movement gained that nickname, and by whom We know the nickname was not given by Handel and was not recorded until early in the 19th century, when the movement became popular on its own. Alicia de Larrocha performs the entire suite on a modern piano in our montage.

The Music for the Royal Fireworks (HWV 351) was composed in 1749 under contract of George II of Great Britain for the fireworks in London's Green Park on 27 April 1749. The fireworks display was not as successful as the music itself: the weather was rainy and in the middle of the show the right pavilion caught fire.

At the King’s behest, the original performance was scored for a large wind band consisting of 24 oboes, 12 bassoons and a contrabassoon, nine natural trumpets, nine natural horns, three pairs of kettledrums, and side drums "ad libitum”. Handel later re-scored the suite for full orchestra and for a performance a month later. Handel noted in the score: the violins to play the oboe parts, the cellos, and double basses the bassoon part, and the violas either a lower wind or bass part. The instruments from the original band instrumentation play all the movements in the revised orchestral edition except the gentle Bourrée and the first Menuet, which are played by only the oboes, bassoons, and strings alone.

Psalm 110 (also known under the Latin name Dixit Dominus), refers in the general sense to a King ruling over the enemies of the Israelites and is regarded by Jews and Christians as referring to the Messiah. Though they translate this Psalm similarly, Christians and Jews interpret its meaning very differently—Jews as referring to a righteous king favored by God to rule over Israel on earth and smite her enemies in battle, and Christians as referring to Jesus literally sitting at God's right hand in heaven as a divine being of equal stature to God.

Handel set this psalm to music in 1707 while Handel was living in Italy. The work was written in the prominent “Italian” style and is scored for five vocal soloists (SSATB), five-part chorus, strings and continuo. It is most likely that the work was first performed on 16 July 1707 in the Church of Santa Maria in Montesanto, under the patronage of the Colonna family.

Because this Psalm is prominent in the Office of Vespers, it has particular significance in music. In addition to Handel, other composers gave set this text to music: Marc-Antoine Charpentier (in 1689), Claudio Monteverdi (1610 and 1640), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1779 and 1780), Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1732), Alessandro Scarlatti (1700), Antonio Vivaldi (twice in 1715); Richard Rodgers composed a partial setting of the psalm for the opening sequence of The Sound of Music, using verses 1, 5, and 7.

I think you will love this music too.

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