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For the 1739–1740 season at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields theatre, Handel composed these concertos to be performed during intervals in masques and oratorios, as a well-advertised feature to attract audiences and showcase himself as both composer and accomplished performer.
Following the success of his organ concertos Op 4, Handel’s publisher John Walsh encouraged him to compose this new set of concertos for purchase by subscription under a specially acquired Royal License. There were just over 100 subscribers, including members of the Royal family, friends, patrons, composers, organists and managers of theatres and pleasure-gardens, some of whom bought multiple sets for larger orchestral forces. Jonathan Tyers subscribed to four sets of these 12 Grand Concertos in Seven Parts for Vauxhall Gardens.
Earlier in 1715, Walsh had himself very successfully published his own edition of Arcangelo Corelli’s celebrated 12 Concerti Grossi, Op 6. Handel’s concertos had exactly the same choice of Opus number and the same number of concertos as Corelli, which maybe reflect his earlier years in Rome where he was inspired and influenced by Corelli and the Italian school (Handel in Italy, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). Handel’s concertos had an unprecedented period of five weeks laid aside for their composition in late September and October 1739 which enabled Handel to produce this set of orchestral ‘masterpieces’ for general publication to show off his compositional skills and pay homage to the ever-popular concerti grossi of Corelli.
Despite the conventional structure of the Corellian model, Handel’s concertos are largely newly composed and are extremely diverse and in parts experimental, drawing from every possible musical genre and influenced by musical forms from all over Europe. The exquisitely beautiful Larghetto affetuoso of Concerto No 4 reflects a galant style and is followed by an energetic fugue, marked Allegro. The third movement, the Largo e piano in F major is one of Handel’s most sublime and simple slow movements, a sarabande in the Italian trio sonata style. The final Allegro in A minor is a radical reworking of a soprano aria ‘È si vaga’ in preparation for his penultimate opera Imeneo.
from notes by Bridget Cunningham © 2017