Written by Ronald Comber
Overture in D Major HWV 337 (Largo, Allegro, Adagio)
Georg Frideric Händel (1685-1759)
One of the most prolific of all of the great Baroque composers, Georg Frideric Händel always wrote with an audience in mind. Whether the work was to be secular or religious, it had to find its mark. In the heat of composition, he would sometimes create an entire movement and then decide that he needed to go in a different direction in order to get the effect that he was looking for. This splendid Ouverture is an example of one of these discarded works. Händel possibly intended it for the first movement of his Concerto Grosso Op. 3, No.6, written 1722-1725, but he wrote a different Ouverture instead.
Duo Welcome as the dawn of day from SOLOMON (HWV 67)
Händel wrote the music for his oratorio Solomon in the scant five weeks between May 5th and June 13th of 1748. The libretto is believed to be by the Jewish poet – playwright, Moses Mendes and is based on the stories of wise king Solomon from the First Book of Kings and the Second Book of Chronicles. The work was understood to be a eulogy for Georgian England and was an immediate success upon its premiere in March, 1749. Welcome as the dawn of day is an exquisite love duet between Solomon and his Queen in the second scene of the first Act.
Adagio II from Sinfonia op 3/5
Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747)
Händel’s long reign as the head of his profession was bound to cause some tension, and from time to time other major composers were imported into the London musical scene to compete for the public’s favour. Bononcini worked in London from 1720 to 1732. A major Opera composer who had long been a force in Paris, Bononcini was loved for his tender, plangent melodies and delicate orchestration. Some fifteen years older than Händel, he also represented an older tradition in music. Tories loved him, Whigs loved Händel.
This lovely Adagio is from a work of 1685, demonstrating the older style.
Georg Frideric Händel
Aria Let the bright Seraphim from SAMSON (HWV 57)
Händel’s Samson was the most popular of his oratorios during his lifetime and has never fallen entirely out of favour since He began writing the work directly after completing the Messiah in September of 1741, completing the last Act at the end of October. Revision had to wait until the Messiah had its Dublin premiere, but the first performance in London in February of 1743 was his greatest triumph. Let the bright Seraphim is from the Third Act, after Samson has through his death brought destruction to the Philistines and the Israelites begin to rejoice.
Largo from Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op. 3, No. 1 – HWV 312
Interestingly, Händel was completely unaware that he had written his celebrated Six Concerto Grossi Opus 3, until he saw it in print. John Walsh, an unscrupulous publisher, had acquired somehow a random collection of Händel’s works and had then assembled them roughly into concerto form in order to trade on the popularity of Corelli’s recently published Concerto Grossi. Nonetheless, though the works are not as Händel would have created, they are truly Händel, as this beautiful Largo demonstrates.
Duo He shall feed His Flock from MESSIAH (HWV 56)
For all of its popularity, few people realise that the Messiah is entirely different from any other of Händel’s many oratorios. Unlike all of the others, the Messiah has no narrative and no actual characters. It is instead a meditation in music on the various meanings of Christianity. As such, the work can be cut and edited to adapt to almost any performance requirement without losing its potency, though it is unlikely that Händel saw it in that light. In He shall feed His Flock
Händel creates an Aria in two parts. The first, from Isaiah is prophetic, and then after a change of key the mood changes with a verse from Matthew, Come unto Him, all ye that labour.
Aria Where’er you walk from SEMELE (HWV 58)
Semele, first performed on February 10th, 1744, was a controversial work from the start. Händel’s Oratorios were extremely popular while his Operas were beginning to fall out of favour. He decided to write a secular Oratorio to an old Restoration libretto by Congreve on Jupiter and Semele. But then he had it performed during the Lenten festival at Covent Garden amongst the Christian works and troubles ensued. Semele is now performed regularly as an Opera and has been acknowledged to be one of his greatest works, This tender Aria is from Jupiter to Semele.
Andante allegro, Adagio from Concerto Grosso op 6, No. 8
Händel used the same unscrupulous publisher (see above) to create the Opus 6 Concerti Grossi in 1741, having recognised a chance to make a nice profit. The music is almost all specially written and was intended to be included in performances of his operas and oratorios as glamorous intermezzi which could then be purchased by amateurs and professionals alike. Formally, the op. 6 Concerti Grossi eschew the prevailing Italian three-movement model for a more expansive freer pattern of four and five movement works.
Duo To thee, thou glorious son of worth from THEODORA (HWV 68)
Theodora was written for the Covent Garden Lenten Oratorio Festival of 1750. Händel produced this work about Christian martyrdom with the firm belief that this would be his crowning achievement and so, to modern ears it is. Sadly, audiences at the premiere actively disliked it, much preferring his Old Testament oratorios to tales from the 4th century. The story of Saints Theodora and Saint Didymus, martyred in the reign of Diocletian is one that marries the love of God with the love of the two towards each other, as is demonstrated in this lovely Duet.
Duo Scherzano sul tuo volto from RINALDO (HWV 57)
Rinaldo was Händel’s first foray into the world of English opera, produced at the Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket in February of 1711. This is the opera that began in London the vogue for operas in the Italian language. Händel’s deadlines were tight, even for him, so he re-used many songs and movements taken from his years working as an opera composer in Italy.
The story, taken from Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, is of love and redemption during the First Crusade. This Duo between Almirena and Rinaldo, the two lovers, comes in the first act as they proclaim their devotion to each other, just before the enchantress Armida carries Almarina off in an attempt to have Rinaldo for her own.
Suite: Allegro (HWV 331), Air (Watermusic), Marche (HWV 346), Hornpipe (HWV 331)
The Water Music was immensely popular from its first performance on the barge on July 17th, 1717 and Händel used it often, in the process adding movements according to need. In the end, he had a work so versatile that he made it appropriate for any occasion, formal or informal, brief or substantial. There are as well a number of works that seem to be related in some way and that may even have been used at a pinch. The Concerto Grosso in F Major, from 1723, first performed in Drury Lane on March 20, fits the profile. Two of the movements are thematically related to portions of the Water Music and one could arguably create a Suite in a configuration something like this.
Aria Lascia ch’io pianga from RINALDO (HWV 57)
Lascia ch’io pianga is from Act II of Rinaldo. The melody comes from Almira, an opera that he wrote in 1705 in Rome, where it was used as a Sarabande. Händel was so fond of the melody that he used it several times more, in different guises. Almarina mourns her captivity and the absence of her lover.
Adagio I, Allegro from Sinfonia op 3/5
Bononcini was very successful for a time as a rival to Händel. The more old-fashioned patrons found his music to be beautiful and soundly traditional, confirming them in their tastes. Händel was showier, louder and generally wrote in a more complicated manner that was to some, rather alarming. Bononcini’s downfall came suddenly when a work he claimed was his turned out to be by Lotti. In the end, he did not suffer. The Duchess of Marlborough hired him at the fabulous sum of £500 a year to produce and conduct private concerts for her circle of friends.
Here are two more movements from his Opus 3, No, 5 that demonstrate his many merits as a composer of a slightly earlier era.
Aria Ombra mai fu from XERSE
One of Bononcini’s most important works, Xerse was first performed in Rome at the Teatro di Tor di Nona on 25 January 1694. It is somewhat of a parody of a 1654 opera of the same name by Cavalli, but is a major work in its own right. Because it is from a period of opera that is not much in favour, only the beautiful Aria Ombra mai fu remains in the repertoire.
Georg Frideric Händel
Aria Ombra mai fu from Serse (HWV 40)
Händel wrote his version of Serse in 1737-1738 as half of a commission for two new Operas, and it was performed at the King’s Theatre on January 29th 1738. Using an adaptation of the libretto used by Bononcini over forty years earlier, Händel produced a work that was so innovative that the audience rejected it. He tried to combine the elements of Opera Seria with Opera Buffa, creating a tragi-comedy, that was hugely ahead of its time but he ran too far ahead of his audience. Needless to say, it is now Händel’s second most popular opera.
Ombra mai fu is the opening Aria of the entire work and is often performed as a concert work on its own. It will be performed today with its opening Recitative.
Polonaise from Concerto Grosso op. 6, no.3
Although this, the fourth movement of the Concerto Grosso does not really correspond in tone or manner to our conception of a true Polonaise. It has a charm all its own. Drones in the lower strings suggest a solid rusticity, but the effect is somewhat leavened by the sheer courtliness of the writing for the upper strings.
Aria Domero from GIULIO CESARE (HWV 17)
Aria Duo Caro! Bella! Più amabile beltà
Originally titled Giuilio Cesare in Egitto, the opera was an immediate success at its opening in the King’s Theatre on February 20th, 1724. Telling the story of Caesar, Pompey, Ptolemy and Cleopatra it made for spectacular entertainment as an alternative to the Lenten Festival. The opera proved to be so popular that Händel was able to mount several revivals over the next twenty years with continued success.
In the first Aria, Domero, Tolomeo (Ptolemy) rejoices at having thwarted his sister’s plans. In the Aria Caro! Bella! Più amabile beltà Caesar and Cleopatra are together after many travails.