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The Consort

Thomas Cooper

Summer 2013, Vol. 69

Handel’s Celebrated ‘Oboe Concertos’:
An anonymous late 18th-century
adaptation for organ, harpsichord
or piano forte of Handel’s
Six Concerti Grossi
Anon, ed. Gerald Gifford
Edition HH, HH288.sol, Bicester, 2012
(pbk, £16.95)
ISMN 979 0 708092 32 2

This most attractive volume forms a valuable addition to Gerald’s Gifford’s series of edited texts from the Fitzwilliam Museum Collection, reviewed in earlier issues of this journal. Those volumes built up a picture of some of the keyboard preferences of a particular collector, Viscount Fitzwilliam. This particular publication, as the handsome reproduction of the title page attests, draws on a copy (c.1785) currently in the library of St John’s College, Cambridge. The volume makes for fascinating study, as it provides evidence not only of the commercial publishing ventures surrounding the 1784 Handel Commemoration Festival held at Westminster Abbey, but also of the increasing popularity of the pianoforte in England at this relatively early date.

As Gerald Gifford’s extensive notes and informative Introduction point out, the arrangements of some of the movements from Handel’s Concerti Grossi op.3 are only suitable for performance on the pianoforte. While dynamic markings are few and far between in the original, those in the arrangement of the Minuet of Concerto 2, for example, could not be performed without serious disruption to the musical flow on an organ or harpsichord, whether with one manual or more; they would also seem uncharacteristic of instruments fitted with a ‘Venetian’ swell or shutter mechanism.

This is particularly true of the marking ‘Fortis.’ in bar 13 of the Minuet, which appears at the topmost note of a rising semiquaver scale, following 12 bars of piano. The dynamic marking ‘Fortis.’ (i.e. fortissimo) in itself would seem to be somewhat unusual at this period, being used only very rarely, for example, in the keyboard works of Mozart.

It therefore seems very likely that pianoforte owners and players were conceived of as a major part of the intended market for this publication, though obviously its commercial success would be best served by appealing to as many keyboard players as possible. As Gerald Gifford remarks, many of the movements would be suitable for performance on one manual of an organ or harpsichord. The complicated provenance of these works is explored in Gerald Gifford’s comprehensive Introduction. Hermond (or Harman) Wright, the printer of this collection, appears to have been solely responsible for its publication, in this instance avoiding a re-use of plates originating from Handel’s earlier publisher John Walsh, which was his practice in certain other ventures. Walsh had been largely responsible for the compilation of the op.3 Concerti Grossi, selecting their various movements from a wide range of works by the composer.

As Gerald Gifford comments, this leads to an unexpected variety of keys within some of the concerti, such as Concerto 1, with its first movement in B flat major and its last in G minor. The extent to which Handel himself might have been responsible for such a grouping of movements is debateable but, as Gerald Gifford remarks, the result is strongly convincing in performance, and the Concerti sound to the listener (and feel under the fingers) to be coherent and unified works.

In keeping with his previous editions, Gerald Gifford presents a volume which is eminently practical and very well designed for the performer. The text is extremely clear and beautifully laid out, and there are very helpful editorial suggestions for the simplification of some tricky fast passages in sixths, where the anonymous arranger has retained Handel’s original texture at the cost of presenting quite formidable technical challenges to the player. The arrangements themselves are, nevertheless, not only very playable but also most enjoyable to play. They form an important addition to the resources of performers, both amateur and professional, as well as to scholars of 18th-century English music.

Thomas Cooper

We are grateful to the editor of The Consort for permission to reproduce this review.
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