Handel’s Fugue in A Minor, HWV 609: Haunting Chromaticism

For a brief moment, Handel’s Fugue in A Minor, HWV 609 could almost be mistaken for a twentieth century tone row. The first haunting pitches of the fugue’s subject are disorienting because they leap wildly beyond an octave. The chromaticism which underlies the subject clouds the tonal center. In the second half of the subject, a descending chromatic line suggests a sense of deep mystery and melancholy. The fugue unfolds as an …

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Handel’s Suite No. 5 in E Major: “The Harmonious Blacksmith”

George Frideric Handel composed the Eight Great Suites for harpsichord around 1718 when he was employed as house composer at Cannons in Middlesex, England. By 1720, he became aware of error-ridden pirated copies of the music circulating throughout continental Europe. When the set was published, Handel included the following  explanation in the preface of the London edition: I have been obliged to publish some of the following Lessons, because surrepticious and incorrect Copies of …

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Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6: No. 2 in F Major: An Intimate Conversation

An economic calculation led Handel to compose his twelve Concerti Grossi (Op. 6) in the autumn of 1739. Italian opera was falling out of favor with the English public. The 1737 season had been disastrous for the opera company Handel directed, taking a toll on the composer’s finances and health. In an enterprising turn, Handel offered a new genre that would gain quick popularity—the English oratorio. In order to attract audiences and gain …

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Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 4 in A Minor: A Rich Potpourri

The twelve Concerto Grossi (Op. 6) composed by Handel in the autumn of 1739 offer a rich potpourri of musical forms. These orchestral suites (“large concertos”) are a collection of stately French overtures, fugues, vibrant Baroque dances, and repurposed opera arias. They pay homage to a genre that was developed by Arcangelo Corelli in the 1680s. Handel wrote the Concerto Grossi, Op. 6 as an added attraction for performances of his oratorios at London’s Lincoln’s …

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Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 5 in D Major: “Arise! Arise!”

The tuneful Voice, was heard from high, Arise! Arise! Arise ye more than dead! – John Dryden (A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day) Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 5 begins with a joyful musical “call to order.” A celebratory fanfare in the solo violin seems to be the “tuneful voice” from John Dryden’s 1687 poem, urging us to “arise!” In fact, the first, second, and sixth movements of this Concerto Grosso …

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Handel’s “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day”: “From Harmony, from Heavenly Harmony”

Sunday marks Saint Cecilia’s Feast Day on the Roman Catholic calendar. Saint Cecilia, one of the most famous martyrs of the early church, is the patron of music and musicians. Her spirit is celebrated in George Frederich Handel’s cantata, Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, which was first performed on November 22, 1739 at London’s Theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The cantata’s text is a setting of a 1687 poem by John Dryden based on the …

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Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, Héloïse Gaillard and Ensemble Amarillis

Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, HWV 363a unfolds as a vibrant musical dialogue between the solo voice and the accompanying basso continuo. Its five movements alternate in tempo between slow and fast, suggesting the Italian church sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. The opening movement (Adagio) is both majestic and lamenting. Its expansive, singing melody might remind you of an aria from one of Handel’s operas or oratorios. The second movement (Allegro) erupts with …

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