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Composed: c. 1746
Length: c. 15 minutes
Orchestration: 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, continuo, strings, and solo organ
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
Although we generally do not think of Handel as a performer, at least not in the same way as, say, Johann Sebastian Bach, he was a remarkably accomplished keyboard player. In addition to composing a substantial body of solo harpsichord music, Handel basically invented the solo organ concerto, for his own use at performances of his oratorios.
These organ interludes became quite popular, and were advertised features of the oratorio concerts. “When he gave a concerto, his method in general was to introduce it with a voluntary movement on the diapasons, which stole on the ear in a slow and solemn progression; the harmony close wrought, and as full as could possibly be expressed; the passages concatenated with stupendous art, the whole at the same time being perfectly intelligible, and carrying the appearance of great simplicity,” wrote the historian John Hawkins in 1776. “This kind of prelude was succeeded by the concerto itself, which he executed with a degree of spirit and firmness that no one ever pretended to equal."
The six concertos of Handel’s Op. 7 were published after his death and may have been compiled then, rather than by the composer. Op. 7, No. 4 may have been the “new Concerto on the Organ” advertised for the premiere of the Occasional Oratorio in 1746, but no complete autograph score exists. The dark, rich opening movement was probably composed in 1738, and the exuberant second movement – Allegro così così – is Handel’s clever transformation of an Air by Telemann. The movement marked “ad libitum” would have been improvised by Handel at the concert (performers today often insert a version of another piece by Handel), and the fleet, dramatic finale is an arrangement of the last movement of Handel’s Concerto Grosso Op. 3, No. 6.
John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.