New Classics

George Frideric Handel began his life in Germany, the son of a barber-surgeon, and died an English citizen, the most renowned musical figure of his day and a national treasure. Whereas his contemporary and fellow countryman, Johann Sebastian Bach, composed for the church and his patrons, Handel composed for the general public. Acknowledged as the greatest composer working in England in the 18th century, Handel continues to be revered as a master composer and his Harpsichord Suites are among the finest instrumental works of the period.

When the thirty-five year old composer set about making an authoritative edition of his finest harpsichord music in London, he claimed he was ‘obliged to publish …because surreptitious and incorrect copies …had got abroad’ – referring to a pirate edition which had appeared in Amsterdam. Handel’s new 1720 publication of Suites was drawn from a stock of work going back in some instances to his teenage years in Hamburg, where he had received his early training from the organist Zachau at his birth place, Hallé. From the manuscript it is clear that most of the music was composed by 1717/18, and that after 1720 Handel virtually abandoned solo keyboard composition.

In the first biography of the composer, published in 1760, John Mainwaring wrote that ‘Handel had an uncommon brilliancy and command of finger, but what distinguished him from all other players who possessed these same qualities was that amazing fullness, force and energy which he joined with them. And this observation may be applied with as much justness to his compositions, as to his playing.’

This latest double-CD release in Divine Art’s excellent recordings of Handel’s unjustly neglected harpsichord suites features exquisite performances by veteran musician Gilbert Rowland. Glasgow-born Rowland is one of Europe’s foremost harpsichordists and the first two volumes of his series received excellent reviews. The third and final instalment does not disappoint in the splendid playing and outstanding instrument, a two-manual French harpsichord ‘after Goermans’ of Paris (1750) copied and built by Andrew Wooderson in 2005.

—John Pitt