Suite No 8
in F minor reminds us that just as E major, being the sharpest major key in common use, was considered heavenly, so F minor, the flattest minor key in common use, was deemed apposite to infernal matters. Handel’s F minor Suite is not, however, overtly hellish and begins with a prelude in French dotted rhythm which is ‘pathetic’ rather than scary. He ballasts its pathos with a massive fugue on a rising-scale subject in symmetrical rhythm. Often he adds weight by ‘filling in’ the mounting octaves in the left hand, a corruption of linearity that Bach would not have countenanced. The open energy and ‘drive’ of this music mirror eighteenth-century man’s courage in confronting life’s threats; but the allemande and courante temper gravity with grace rather than with power. Handel does not risk an F minor sarabande, whether of the ‘grave’ or the ‘pathetic’ type, but concludes with a contrapuntal gigue in three voices, with canonic imitations to discipline the theme’s spikiness.
from notes by Wilfrid Mellers © 1995