Handel Organ Concertos

Andante from Organ Concerto Op.4 No. 4   G.F.Handel (1685-1759) [ORGAN]

"Fairest Lord Jesus"


Handel is most famous for his oratorio Messiah (not "THE Messiah", just "Messiah", by the way) — only one of 29 he composed (not counting 42 operas, etc. etc.). Not content with regaling his audience with 3 hour oratorios, he also entertained them with music at "half-time" — concertos he composed for organ and orchestra, with Handel himself tickling the ivories. Organs in those days were typically small in England — frequently only one keyboard and no pedals (unlike the large instruments in Germany for which his contemporary J.S.Bach composed), so that's the instrument for which Handel composed. Modern organs are considerably larger, so modern arrangements now typically give the orchestra part to one keyboard and the original organ solo to the other, so one player plays the whole enchilada.

When Handel visited Italy in his 20's to further his musical education, we have a little vignette that gives us some idea of his prowess:

"When Handel first came to Italy … he became known to Domenico Scarlatti. As he was an exquisite player on the harpsichord, the Cardinal [Ottoboni] was determined to bring him and Handel together for a trial of skill … It has been said that some gave the preference to Scarlatti. However, when they came to the Organ there was not the least pretense for doubting to which of them it belonged … 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 justice to his compositions as to his playing." — John Mainwaring, Memoirs of the Life of the late G. F. Handel, 1760.