Thursday, December 12, 2019
Home News Classics on Sunday: Handel’s Organ Concerto, Op 7 No 4

Classics on Sunday: Handel’s Organ Concerto, Op 7 No 4

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GEORGE Frideric Handel composed 12 organ concertos in two sets as interludes for performances of his operas and oratorios.

He was born in Germany in 1685 (the same year as Johann Sebastian Bachand Domenico Scarlatti) but in 1712, when he was 27, he settled in London and eventually became a British citizen. He was a prolific composer of Italian language operas, and in 1735 he introduced the organ concertos between acts of performances at the Covent Garden Theatre, on the site of which the Royal Opera House now stands. By this time Handel was also composing oratorios and he wrote his last opera in 1741. His Messiah was first performed in 1742.

All the organ concertos are lovely but this is my favourite. It is from the second set and is thought to have been written in 1746 for the premiere of An Occasional Oratorio (HWV 62). This was in the midst of the Jacobite rising of 1745–1746, the attempt to overthrow Handel’s patrons, the Hanoverian monarchy under George II, and replace them with a Stuart restoration under Charles Edward Stuart, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. An Occasional Oratorio is unique among Handel’s works which he labelled ‘oratorio’ in that it does not tell a story or contain elements of a drama, but was intended as a defiant and patriotic rallying piece. For the finale Handel recycled Zadok the Priest, the anthem he wrote for the coronation of George II in 1727, and which has been played at the coronation of every British monarch since, calling this version Blessed are they that Fear the Lord.

So to the organ concerto. My favourite part is the second movement, allegro, which starts at about 5’40”. It’s a wonderfully joyous tune and a friend chose it as her wedding march.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist.

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