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EXPLORING MUSIC: IT SOUNDS WELL George Frideric Handel Organ Works

The MHS Review 383 Vol. 11, NO. 5• 1987

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David M. Greene


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Whatever people may have thought about his music, Sebastian Bach was widely admired as an organist. So was his great contem­porary George Frideric Handel. Sir John Hawkins, who heard him play, spoke of "his amazing com­mand of the instrument, the grandeur and dignity of his style, the copiousness of his imagination, and the fertility of his invention." Will organ buffs therefore rejoice that at long last Handel's complete solo output has been recorded? That remains to be seen.

Mijnheer van Doeselaar's labor of love fills two LPs or the equivalent with five concerti, seven fugues, and eight small miscellaneous pieces. The fact is that, though Handel wowed listeners as organist, most of his organ playing seems to have been improvisation, and even the concerti for organ and orchestra contain organ parts that are little more than guidelines...So what have we here?

Well, we have an E major Fugue that turns out to be the third movement of a three-movement voluntary, the rest of which was written by John Stanley. There is the set of fugues noted above; however, these are not specifically organ works, their publisher having proclaimed them suitable for organ or harpsichord. Then there are eight little pieces, mostly untitled, that Handel wrote for Charles Clay to put into a clockwork mechanism that tootled the hours from a clock. We are told that the gadget "could play music of considerable intricacy," but one imagines that what one hears on the record has undergone some arranging.

We know of 16 Handelian con­certi for organ and orchestra, plus some pastiches and frauds. Walsh published a set of six of them as op. 4. They were evidently suffi­ciently successful to make him de­mand more from the composer, who seems to have obliged with another set of six. The liner notes, which are confused, say that all were transcriptions of as many of the op. 6 concerti grossi, and that the first two only included the or­chestral parts. Grove seems to in­dicate that the two orchestral con­certi were not published as such until 1761 (after Handel's death), and that one of them is apparently original. It also says that the entire second set was published as solo keyboard concerti.

Anyhow, van Doeselaar offers the solo versions of op. 6, nos. 1, 5, 6 and 10. His fifth concerto is a transcription of three movements from the F major Concerto for two wind groups, to which he has add­ed his-own version of the rest. To be sure it all sounds very well on the 18th-century and early 19th­century instruments he plays. But "Handel's Solo Organ Music"? Hmmm!

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