Michael Tippett’s “Fantasia on a Theme of Handel”: An Homage to the Baroque

As one of music history’s greatest melodists, George Frideric Handel left behind ripe material for later composers. For example, consider the way allusions to the iconic Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah resurfaced in the music of composers such as Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Mahler.

Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel is based on the Aria con variazioni which concludes Handel’s Suite in B-flat Major, HWV 434 for solo keyboard. With this monumental piece, the 28-year-old Brahms paid homage to his predecessor, and then left his own mark.

It was the opening Prelude from the Suite in B-flat Major which inspired the twentieth century English composer, Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1998) to write his Fantasia on a Theme of Handel. Completed in 1941, the piece is scored for piano and orchestra. Before we listen to Tippett’s music, let’s hear Handel’s theme in its original form, adorned with brilliant ornamentation:

The thematic outline of Handel’s Prelude, stripped of its ornamentation, provides the seed for Tippett’s new piece. The theme, in its purest form, can be heard at the beginning and the end of the piece. In between are a series of far-flung youthful adventures, which hint occasionally at the Romanticism of Rachmaninov:


  • Handel: Suite in B-flat Major, HWV 434, Michael Borgstede michaelborgstede.com
  • Tippett: Fantasia on a Theme of Handel, Steven Osborne, Martyn Brabbins, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Amazon

Featured Image: the facade of the London house where Handel lived 

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

2 thoughts on “Michael Tippett’s “Fantasia on a Theme of Handel”: An Homage to the Baroque”

  1. I am not trained at all in music. I am nearly 65 now. For the last 20 or so years after inheriting my wife’s grandmother’s classical LP collection I have been a sponge for more and more classical and other genres as well– jazz, broadway/show tunes, film scores.

    Your newsletter/blog adds tremendously to my learning and I thank you for that. Some of what you offer I have in my collection, which has grown considerably since getting that first collection, and some is brand new to me. I think nearly all of the composers you offer I know of at least if not already familiar with those compositions and I appreciate that you offer a sample of that “new” composer that I have not heard. So you are either adding something new to what I already know or giving me something completely new to explore.

    Keep up the good work or should I say good “play” for I feel that you really enjoy doing this and hope you do it for a long time to come. Thank you , again.
    Take care,
    James Eckess


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