Movement 1: Ouverture
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Allegro
Movement 4: Sarabande
Movement 5: Gigue
Movement 6: Passacaille: Chaconne
After this highly theatrical overture, an Andante and Allegro (really a French allemande and Italian corrente) are discreet, consistently in two parts, one for each hand, with canonic imitations. The sarabande, more harmonic in texture, is heart-easingly lyrical, flowering into additional ornamentation in the repeats. The conventionally Italianate gigue is unpretentious, but Handel adds as finale a massive passacaille: not a series of melodic extensions over an unvarying linear ground, as in Dido’s ‘Lament’, but a set of variations over a chord sequence, beginning in diatonic homophony but increasingly chromaticized into diminished sevenths (the stock operatic ‘chord of horror’, since it consists of two interlinked and rootless tritones). Significantly, this piece is not in the triple rhythm typical of processional passacaglias (and of chaconnes and sarabandes) but is rather in a common time relating back to the fugato section of the overture. It marches remorselessly, generating increasingly virtuosic figuration. There is nothing like this in Bach, and its effect is remarkably similar to that of Handel’s monumentally public choruses in his oratorios. If this Handelian passacaille is ceremonial, it is a procession no longer of court dignitaries, but of affluent British burghers.
from notes by Wilfrid Mellers © 1995