In Celebration of Handel

Friday, March 27, First Unitarian Church, Worcester
Saturday, March 28, Emmanuel Church, Boston


Sonata in G Major , op. 5, no. 4                        George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
  Allegro • A tempo ordinario—Allegro, non presto   
  Passacaille • Gigue (Presto) • Menuett (Allegro moderato)
Mi palpita il cor   

Concerto Grosso in G Major, op. 3, no. 3   
  Largo, e staccato—Allegro   


Concerto in Bb Major for keyboard, two recorders, strings, and continuo, op, 4, no. 6   
  Andante allegro • Larghetto• Allegro moderato

Tra le fiamme   

Deborah Rentz-Moore, mezzo-soprano
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso and recorder; John Tyson, recorder
Sarah Darling and Abigail Karr, violins
Marcia Cassidy, violin and viola; Jane Hershey, viola da gamba and violone
Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord

Program notes

In 1706, at the age of 21, George Frideric Handel departed his native Germany for Italy on the invitation of Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici. His ensuing four-year Italian sojourn brought him into contact with the finest musical circles in Rome, Florence, and Venice, and had a profound effect on his development as a composer. Handel came to Italy with limited experience as a composer of vocal music. His most important previous experience had been his work as violinist and keyboardist under Reinhard Keiser at the Hamburg Opera. His Hamburg colleague Johann Mattheson claimed that prior to Handel’s involvement in the Hamburg Opera “he knew how to compose practically nothing but regular fugues.” While in Italy, most of Handel’s activities were centered in Rome, where he was first in the service of Cardinal Pamphilj, followed by Marchese Ruspoli who employed Handel as a household musician. These and other patrons provided Handel with his first opportunities to compose on a regular basis. Handel’s total output during his stay in Italy included over 150 cantatas, as well as instrumental works, church music, operas, and serenatas. This body of work provided a storehouse of material upon which Handel drew throughout his life.

The cantata Tra le fiamme was composed in 1708 for the private concerts at the residence of Cardinal Benedetto Pamphilj. The work features an unusually colorful instrumentation that includes recorders and obbligato viola da gamba. The latter instrument was a rarity in Italy at the time, and it has been surmised that the part was written for Handel’s German colleague Ernst Christian Hesse who was visiting Italy in 1708. The text for this cantata was written by Cardinal Pamphilj and is an allegory on the myth of Daedelus and Icarus. Handel provides suitable instrumental color for the poem’s theme of flight, with lithe motifs of paired thirds in the recorders and violins weaving in and out of nimble arpeggiations in the gamba part in the first movement. The second aria’s recurring triplets falling into a downward leap to a forte note capture the text’s reference to the excessive boldness of the impetuous, youthful Icarus. In the third aria, the gliding arpeggios of the gamba symbolize the ease by which some creatures can fly while the recorder’s figuration depicts man’s gift to fly with his imagination.

The undated cantata Mi palpita il cor was probably composed for Marchese Ruspoli’s private concerts and survives in a variety of versions. The work’s text describes the torments of unrequited love. The agitation and suffering felt by the protagonist, effectively portrayed in Handel’s passionate opening recitative and tender aria, is transformed into a joyful fantasy in the final aria.

Handel left Italy in 1710, and after a short appointment to the Elector at Hanover, arrived in London in 1711. That year, he created a sensation with Rinaldo, his first opera composed there. Production of Italian opera was in its infancy in England at that time. With the introduction of Italian opera came an interest in Italian instrumental music, expedited by the influx of Italian musicians who joined in London’s varied musical life. Handel’s chamber and orchestral works, which generally followed Italian forms and conventions, were among his most popular works in England. They became widely disseminated principally through the publications of John Walsh, who became Handel’s regular publisher in the early 1730s. The enterprising Walsh brought out a set of concerti grossi as Handel’s opus 3 in 1734. These six concertos were actually compiled, probably without Handel’s supervision, from previously composed works in a variety of genres. The Concerto Grosso in G Major is derived from movements from an anthem composed for the Duke of Chandos, a Te Deum, and a keyboard fugue.

Handel’s opus 5 trio sonatas were published in London in 1739. The works in this opus contain extensive borrowings from Handel’s earlier operas, ballets, and church anthems. The Trio Sonata in G Major is no exception and is perhaps the most theatrical-sounding of the opus 5 sonatas. It contains movements from Athalia, Parnasso in festa, Il pastor fido, and Alcina. For this performance, orchestral color of these original versions is re-created by utilizing Handel’s optional viola part, adding a violone, and incorporating portions of Handel’s original wind parts.

The Concerto in Bb Major was premiered as part of Alexander’s Feast in 1736, inserted in Part One as a harp concerto to imitate Timotheus playing on his lyre. All of Handel’s keyboard concertos were composed in association with his English oratorio performances. The concertos presented an entertaining element of keyboard virtuosity akin to the vocal virtuosity of the associated oratorios.

                                        © Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf