Suite No 3
in D minor has a prelude which is a wildly whirling toccata with a dotted-rhythm subject in which the dots may or may not be reiterated throughout the entries. A dotted-rhythmed allemande reminds us that Charpentier had described the key of D minor as ‘grave et dévot’; and a certain wistfulness, if not gravity, is preserved in the Italianate corrente. But the next movement abandons the format of a conventional suite, being an air with variations. The air itself, like that of Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ Variations, is richly ornamented, and approaches Bachian sublimity. The five variations, however, eschew this old-world formal and spiritual grace, simply taking over the air’s harmonic base and adding lyrical semiquavers for the right hand. The second variation inverts this, placing the chord sequence in the right hand, the semiquavers in the left. The third variation has melodic but sturdily metrical parts for treble and bass which define the fundamental harmonies, leaving the semiquavers to form a middle part. The fourth variation jigs the tune in 12/8, and the fifth and final variation, in broken chords, is the plainest but also the most energetic. Unlike Bach, Handel does not return to his seraphically ornate aria but whisks this climactic variation into a final presto in 3/8, aggressive in muscularity, its thrust reinforced with trills.
from notes by Wilfrid Mellers © 1995