Harmonious Blacksmith

"Harmonious Blacksmith" G. Handel (1685–1759) [PIANO]

Chorale Prelude on "Come, Labor On"


The "Harmonious Blacksmith" is the popular name of the final movement of Handel's harpsichord suite No. 5. Handel didn't give it this name — the nickname doesn't appear until the early 19th century when the movement became popular on its own. The piece is a "theme and variations", so it is only fitting that there are various variations on the origins of this piece and/or its name:

VARIATION 1: Handel once took shelter from the rain in a smithy, and was inspired to write his tune after hearing the hammer on the anvil — the regularly repeated note (B in the right hand) in the first variation can give the impression of a blacksmith hammering. (Some stretch of the imagination is required for this story.)

VARIATION 2: Handel heard the blacksmith singing the tune which would later become the Theme — an explanation which fits in nicely with Handel's standard technique of borrowing tunes (a common composer practice in those days).

VARIATION 3: (this one is true) 75 years after Handel's death Richard Clark (author of Reminiscences of Handel, 1836) and Henry Wylde found an old anvil in a smithy near Whitchurch, Edgware and fabricated a story to identify William Powell as the fictitious blacksmith, when, in fact, he had been the parish clerk. They even raised a subscription to fund a memorial for Powell to that effect. I have not been able to determine why they would want to ascribe such a story and memorial to Powell in the first place.

VARIATION 4: our final variation (also true) is due to William Lintern who started out life as a blacksmith's apprentice from Bath and later turned to music. He had a music shop in which he sold the "Harmonious Blacksmith" movement separate from the rest of the suite (perhaps the first to do so?) because he said he could sell enough copies this way to make a profit. Lintern said he himself came up with the nickname because he had been brought up as a blacksmith and this was the piece he was constantly asked to play.