Handel Suites (1720) -- demo recordings
"Handel is so great and so simple that no one but a professional musician is unable to understand him" - Samuel Butler

You can find two pieces by Handel and Scarlatti, written apparently in each other's styles here. (You'll also find more Scarlatti ongoing there, and in case you think I've been ignoring Bach (or, belatedly, Dieupart) go here.)

No.1 (A major) -- (27/4/2009)
Prelude download mp3 (3.5 Mb)
Allemande download mp3 (7 Mb)
Courante download mp3 (5 Mb)
Gigue download mp3 (6.5 Mb)

No.2 (F major) -- (2/5/2009)
Adagio download mp3 (4.1 Mb)
Allegro download mp3 (4.7 Mb)
Adagio download mp3 (2.7 Mb)
Allegro download mp3 (4.4 Mb)

[Suite 3 from the Sampler CD, now deleted from the Voiceprint catalog]

No.3 (D minor) -- (1994)
Prelude download mp3 (4.8 Mb)
Allemande download mp3 (3.7 Mb)
Courante download mp3 (2.9 Mb)
Air & Doubles download mp3 (10.2 Mb)
Presto download mp3 (6.2 Mb)

No.4 (E minor) -- (21/5/2009)
Allegro download mp3 (7.4 Mb)
Allemande download mp3 (5.2 Mb)
Courante download mp3 (5.3 Mb)
Sarabande download mp3 (8.6 Mb)
Gigue download mp3 (4.1 Mb)

No.5 (E major) -- (18/6/2009)
Prelude download mp3 (4.1 Mb)
Prelude (OE* d#) download mp3 (3.9 Mb)
Prelude (OE* d) download mp3 (4.2 Mb)
Allemande download mp3 (11.3 Mb)
Courante download mp3 (4.4 Mb)
Air & Doubles ("The Harmonious Blacksmith") download mp3 (8.8 Mb)

No.6 (F# minor) -- (9/7/2009)
Prelude download mp3 (3.5 Mb)
Largo download mp3 (3.5 Mb)
Allegro download mp3 (5.2 Mb)
Gigue (Presto) download mp3 (4.9 Mb)

In the last few weeks I've found it necessary to reconsider the temperament (tuning system) most suitable for Handel's keyboard music. The Sampler CD (entirely in G/g & d) used a modified meantone, but despite the likelihood that meantone was the commonest temperament in use in England in the early 1700s, it would need more than modification to deal with Handel's E major or F minor suites. I also now feel that, despite his German origins, neither does Handel's music suit any of the Pythagorean systems popular in that part of the world (from which Kellner's Bach tuning, used in the recordings thus far, was evolved). I'm now happy that the system attributed to him some twenty years after his passing by Longman & Broderip is indeed authentic (despite their firm's somewhat sharp practices), and I'll be using it from now on. I will also link to some more thoughts on the subject here.

No.7 (G minor) -- (18/8/2009)
Ouverture [no repeats] download mp3 (4.5 Mb)
Andante download mp3 (5 Mb)
Allegro download mp3 (4.9 Mb)
Sarabande download mp3 (6 Mb)
Gigue download mp3 (3.5 Mb)
Passacaille download mp3 (7 Mb) [..apologies for bad G#/Ab. See below for new reading at 3:54]

No.8 (F minor) -- (3/9/2009)
Prelude - Adagio download mp3 (4.6 Mb)
         - Allegro download mp3 (5 Mb)
Allemande download mp3 (8.7 Mb)
Courante download mp3 (4 Mb)
Gigue download mp3 (4.3 Mb)


*Original edition of 1720 (a few corrections to plates during the 1720s):

In the Baroque era, the ornament known as a mordant (lit. "biting", single or repeated repercussion with a lower auxiliary note) was frequently expressed by a sign consisting of a zigzag line with a vertical (or oblique) stroke more-or-less centered through it. Other forms of zigzag lines (with vertical stroke at the beginning, end, or none at all) are most generally interpreted as trills with an upper auxiliary, the stroke if present denoting a turn (ie. a single lower repercussion) either at the beginning or end of the trill. The 1720 volume uses all three types, and whatever their correct interpretation, the fact is the editorial consensus of the last century-and-a-half has been and remains that Handel intended ALL such ornaments to be mordants, and they are thus represented identically. Out of a host of examples I could have chosen, a particularly convincing one - for me at least - occurs in Suite 2, Adagio I, b8:

Are these two ornaments *really* intended to be the same, as in the modern version on the right?
I frequently used to play this suite at Fenton House in the 80s and 90s, and always found it impossible to treat these particular two ornaments identically, given their expressive context. I would play the first with a single repercussion, then several on the second. As yet unconvinced, I took to playing the first as before with a c-natural auxiliary, then with c-sharps on the second - better, but I was never entirely happy with it. Of course it never for a moment occurred to me, not having seen the OE, that one of these two (as with so many other examples throughout the collection) might not be a mordant at all!

Suite 5, Prelude: b1/4/2 rh instead of the (universally-accepted) e', d'.

As you see, the key signature is given with three sharps, a fact not usually reported. In context, this note could be read as either d' or d#'. Later in the piece, Handel is careful to avoid such ambiguities, which would suggest the possibility of a mistake - or the possibility of intentional ambiguity? I believe all three readings are musically justifiable, and as each version creates a different atmosphere I have recorded them separately.

Air, Double 5: for the reason just given, the 4th note of the final lh scales is, as printed, d not d#. I am personally convinced that this is intentional.

Suite 6, Largo: b19/3/4 rh the sign before the a' has either been interpreted by editors as a natural (as in the example on the right), or ignored altogether (the previous a-sharp having been almost four bars ago).

Magnification reveals that this is in fact a sharp sign, the dot following the preceding b#' presumably having been mistaken for the upper left stroke of a natural.

Specifically, this note has the function of preparing the major chord on the dominant at b22. With the old, currently universally-found reading, a minor chord in its place would have sounded fine, the structural need for a dominant major then becoming its primary - and arguably musically insufficient - justification.

Suite 7. Passacaille: b53/3&4 lh the OE clearly has b-flats in place of the now-ubiquitously-printed c's.

If an error of omission (and what a conspicuous one), by the mid-1720s it had still not been corrected at least in the copy of the '3rd Edition' (Smith 1960) whose facsimile I have. In the final two variations, the comparable passages each have harmony best defined in modern terms as Cm7 (in other words the 7th - of Cm, Bb - is present in both), lending support to the likelihood of its being correct. Possibly the texture created by this inversion might tend towards muddiness on the modern piano, but then Handel's 1720 Suites fare as badly [but, see below] on piano as the great 17th c. French harpsichord literature which their title pages clearly evoke, written exclusively for the sonority of that instrument. Pianists/fortepianists should be content with Bach's WTC, which *is* for them (second and third only to clavichord)! :) [Ed - also include first Partita] It even seems, according to Peter Williams, that Bach had a share in a piano-hire firm in Jena (about 50 miles from Leipzig). What next?..

Am I alone in finding the G major Suite from the second set rather suitable for fortepiano? Terence Best dates it pre-1706, which would make that impossible, although Handel could conceivably have had the chance to try one of Cristofori's very first pianos before he left Italy in 1710. Since the only manuscript dates from c1721, Best may have been making an assumption based on (possibly, here, misunderstood) stylistic grounds. Persistent LH octaves and finger-waggling passagework suggest to me a prototype of the stylistic simplifications undertaken later in the century by composers searching for effective pianistic writing (and, dismally ineffective on harpsichord). Fortunately, by the end of the century Beethoven had revealed through his championing of the WTC, that the expressive literature of the clavichord deserved to 'inherit' the piano, even more than the virtuoso harpsichord style of Scarlatti which influences much of Clementi's earlier writing.

Like Suite 5, the final Suite 8 has only three accidentals in its key signature. Not surprisingly, the majority of alternative readings concern the omission (whether intentional or not) of flat signs on the note D. In the fugal Allegro, at bar 139 the first soprano note is unflattened:

Four bars later, the minim usually given as a middle C is without ledger line. From positioning alone, it is impossible to tell whether this note is intended to be a C, or, (as I prefer) a Bb:

Allemande, b2/2 LH: (somewhat uncharacteristically, Steglich supplies the natural sign here in the old Barenreiter urtext BA4224)

Courante, b42/2 & 3 the soprano part has two Gs. At first, the addition of a ledger line to the first G would seem to make sense, conforming with bar 18, but closer examination shows that the motivic basis for a repeated note pair has been established with the compressed da capo at bar 37, and that in bars 43-45 the LH would appear to imitate, three times, such a pair in bar 42:

Gigue, b43/2/3 LH: the D is unflattened (and I see no reason for it to conform with the equivalent Ab in bar 23):

Other 'uncorrections' have gone unmentioned for the moment. Where these occur in binary movements, I have tried to give the restored reading as a contrast to the accepted. Of course, some may be genuine errors - but at least we get the chance to decide! And, as current understanding of pre-18th c., pre-tonal music (in which Handel's compositional technique has its roots) continues to advance, certain things turn out to sound rather better than expected - once we can overcome our prejudices based on past experience. With the best will in the world, Chrysander 'corrected' the wonderful g#' at b12/1 of the E major Prelude - perhaps the 19th c. just wasn't ready for it..
[..to be continued, no doubt]

Harpsichord - 'Ruckers' kit by Zuckermann, quilled in crow and condor.
Mics - 2 Neumann KM-86s about 2m from the instrument, 1.5m apart.