The Cuckoo

“The Cuckoo”      L.C. D’Aquin (1694-1772)

This Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent. Tuesday is Mardi Gras, which means “Fat Tuesday” in French, so I suppose this Sunday could be “Fat Sunday.” For the occasion I thought something plain-olde fun would be fun — within the bounds of proper-Presbyterianism and the “frozen chosen,” of course!

Handel composed all his organ concertos for theater performance at his oratorios, generally to coincide with opening night of a new work. The keyboard concerto was a relative novelty in Handel’s day (but his concertos inspired numerous imitations among his colleagues), and Handel discovered that his renown as an organ virtuoso was an added and powerful draw to audiences in his oratorio seasons. Handel was a ‘music producer’ — think ‘Broadway’ but in 18th century London, so food in his fridge depended on his operas and oratorios being financial successes. (They weren’t always: _Messiah_ (1741) was initially a flop.)

In April 1737 Handel suffered a stroke which seriously affected his right hand. He was exhausted by five years of relentless overwork, and his friends and patrons wondered whether he would ever play or compose again. He retired to Aix-la-Chapelle to take the vapor-baths; six weeks later he returned to London, miraculously restored — and with a new artistic focus: oratorios in English.

The Concerto featured in this morning’s prelude was completed on April 2, 1739, and played by Handel two days later at the first performance of his oratorio _Israel in Egypt_, given at the King’s Theatre. (My favorite movement of this oratorio is “He Gave them Hailstones for Rain” in which not only does the Almighty pummel the Egyptians with hail and fire, but Handel pummels them still more with two choruses, brass and timpani. It’s quite thrilling, and easy to find on YouTube.)