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A virtuoso violinist and distinguished conductor, Johan Halvorsen also wrote a large body of incidental music (he served as conductor at the Norwegian National Theater in Christiania for 30 years) as well as other orchestral works and numerous pieces featuring the violin. In 1894, when he was working as a conductor in Bergen, he made this flamboyant adaptation for violin and viola of the Passacaglia from a Suite for solo harpsichord by Handel. A passacaglia is a form of continuous variations over a repeating bass, and Halvorsen elaborates Handel’s own variations with extended instrumental display: double stops, rushing scales, harmonics, and a wide range of dynamics, timbres, and articulation.
John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.