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Concerto in G major, HWV487

composer

 
According to the linen and silk-merchant from Hanau, Denis Nolhac, (Voiage Historique et politique de Suisse, d’Italie et d’Allemagne 1737) Handel was already well acquainted with musicians of great reputation in Rome even early on in 1707.

Nolhac was invited to hear Handel play the harpsichord and suggested that many Italians, especially Romans had ‘strange ideas about the power of the Devil and musicians’ and were deeply suspicious that Handel’s highly powered musical skills were somehow linked to the hat that he was holding rather awkwardly under his arm. Rather bemused, Nolhac continues ‘Handel was a Saxon, and therefore a Lutheran, that made them suspect that his skill was supernatural. I even heard some saying that holding on to his hat had something to do with it.’ (Translations Professor Donald Burrows). At the advice of Nolhac, Handel released his hat and played even better than before just to dispel this rumour.

Handel’s mastery of the organ also brought him attention in Rome and Nolhac gave an account of Handel’s organ playing in the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. A contemporary diarist Francesco Valesio wrote on 14 January 1707 that ‘There is lately arrived in this city a Saxon who is a most excellent player upon the harpsichord and composer of music and who today made great pomp of his virtue in playing upon the organ in the church of San Giovanni to the amazement of all’. Reputed to be the largest and most magnificent organ in Rome this instrument still survives to this day.

Mainwaring’s anecdotes relate that Handel and Scarlatti entered a musical contest with each other at the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome and who himself was an exquisite harpsichord player. Despite a common consensus that they shared the victor’s palms on the harpsichord, Scarlatti generously acknowledged the Saxon’s superiority on the organ and was so struck by Handel’s method of playing that he followed him throughout Italy.

It is not known what music Handel performed on any of these historic occasions. No body of organ music by Handel—apart from the concertos composed later in England—survives in a recognizable form. If a competition with Scarlatti took place, it is possible that pieces were improvised and that Handel constructed those improvisations based upon his own compositions using themes from sinfonias, overtures, arias or indeed themes from other composers rather than performing bespoke keyboard works.

The Concerto may be an original keyboard composition and is often linked to his Italian period through stylistic evidence, although little is known about the circumstances of its composition. The title Concerto and the oboe-like passages, perhaps suggests that this work is an arrangement of an orchestral piece, or an early working using the style of a concerto. It has piano and forte markings which may reflect the concerto style or the use of the upper and lower manual of a double manual harpsichord like in the piece Sonata for a harpsichord with Double Keys in G major (HWV579). Several copies omit the inner part of the right hand as 18th century copyists often did when transcribing orchestral works for keyboard. A reworking of this material occurs in the Sinfonia in Act III of Scipione (HWV20). The 2nd movement, the Andante, is the same as the second movement of the Concerto Grosso Op 3 No 4 (HWV315) and only occasionally has inner parts in the right hand and was reworked for the famous Braamcamp Handel- Clay clock.

from notes by Bridget Cunningham © 2016

Recordings

Handel: Handel in Italy, Vol. 2
Studio Master: SIGCD462Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante

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