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George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

Concerto Grosso in B-flat, Op. 3, No. 1

Although the concerto grosso originated in the late seventeenth century with Italian composers like Arcangelo Corelli, the form became popular in England in the early decades of the eighteenth century largely through publishers in London who reprinted music written by composers from the continent. After successfully printing Corelli’s Twelve Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, music publisher John Walsh collected several compositions by George Frideric Handel and printed them together in 1734 as a set of “concertos” called Op. 3 without Handel’s knowledge. Six years later, after acknowledging the success of the Op. 3 collection among the English public, Handel repurposed several excerpts from his own operas and concertos (and material “borrowed” from his contemporaries) and completed a full set of twelve, this time working directly with Walsh as his publisher.

Both collections by Handel use the standard concertino forces of two solo violins and solo cello in dialogue with each other and the full orchestra, or ripieno, but in Op. 3, No. 2, Handel also added two oboes and a bassoon. Throughout the first movement, both solo violins weave their lines together against the orchestral accompaniment and establish a pattern that continues in the largo movement, where instead two cellos gently accompany a lyrical oboe melody. The allegro recalls Handel’s imitative choral writing before launching into two dances, a minuet and a gavotte, that feature both oboes and bassoon. Though written years apart and compiled by an enterprising publisher, Handel’s mastery of the concerto grosso form shines through in each moment of surprise and delight.

Jonathan Posthuma ©2021

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

“Entrance of the Queen of Sheba” from Solomon

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell

Fantasias No. 11 and 13

William Lawes

William Lawes

Royal Consort Sett No. 2

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Franz Joseph Haydn Listen to Audio

Franz Joseph Haydn

Symphony No. 101, The Clock

Richard Egarr, conductor
Richard Egarr, harpsichord

During his long tenure with the Esterházy family, Haydn spent much of his time dutifully entertaining his patrons at a remote country estate. He encountered a vastly different environment during his two visits in the 1790s to London, a bustling city that welcomed him as a celebrity. Contrasting the lofty, refined tastes of the Austrian nobility, London audiences favored splashy and spectacular entertainment—ranging from revivals of Handel oratorios involving hundreds of performers to popular caricatures such as The Beggar’s Opera. Haydn, in his second set of “London” symphonies, seemed to respond to English tastes by writing music with extra panache. He added the robust tone of clarinets in all but one symphony, and he incorporated flashy gestures that inspired nicknames still associated with several works: “Military” (Symphony No. 100), “The Clock” (Symphony No. 101), and “Drum Roll” (Symphony No. 103).

Haydn began the Symphony No. 101 in Vienna and completed it in London in 1794. Considering the adjustment period new music often endures before being embraced by the public, the immediate success Haydn achieved was remarkable, as evidenced by the review published in the Morning Chronicle two days after the premiere. The critic declared, “As usual the most delicious part of the entertainment was a new grand Overture [Symphony] by HAYDN; the inexhaustible, the wonderful, the sublime HAYDN! The first two movements were encored; and the character that pervaded the whole composition was heartfelt joy. Every new Overture he writes, we fear, till it is heard, he can only repeat himself; and we are every time mistaken.”

As with most of the “London” symphonies, No. 101 begins with a slow introduction. This subdued Adagio in D minor builds anticipation for the body of the first movement, which gallops in with five-measure phrases that spill over the expected subdivisions of four measures. The Andante movement, with the “tick-tock” flavor of its accompaniment, is responsible for the symphony’s nickname, “The Clock.” The graceful melody and steady accompaniment form the basis of a set of variations, including a dramatic, minor-key escapade that recalls Haydn’s Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) days.

Haydn deserves credit for making the minuet an indispensible component of the symphony, an expansion from earlier three-movement models. This minuet is one of his richest, with a full-throated scoring that includes trumpets and timpani, and a charming trio section built around a running motive that recalls the main theme of the first movement.

The finale packs a typical Haydn punch: It throttles back to just strings in a piano dynamic for the first fifty-five measures, then unleashes the full forte power of the orchestra right at a major point of arrival, the last note of the earlier phrase doubling as the first note in a new motive. The same dovetailing trick binds another quiet string passage to an even bolder mood change, with a sudden shift to the minor key blasted by the entire ensemble at a fortissimo dynamic. Still this finale has one trick left up its sleeve: a hushed fugato, passed among the strings, which climbs to a grand arrival, ushering in the final statement of the theme.

Aaron Grad ©2014

About This Program

Approximate length 1:00

Artistic Partner Richard Egarr returns to the SPCO with a delightful program of works from London. Wonderful and surprising harmonies emerge from the strings in works by Henry Purcell and William Lawes. Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 earned its nickname for the steady tick-tock accompaniment of the slow movement, but it is a work with a dramatic sweep and a dynamic conclusion.

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