Paul Jenkins talks about Handel’s Organ Concerto in F that he will perform on Sunday, November 24, 2019, with the Toronto Mozart Players, led by conductor David Bowser, and some talented guests. Tickets and information here.
Handel’s organ concertos originated as vehicles for his widely acknowledged improvisatory skills. Having lost Farinelli to the Prince of Wales’ rival Opera of the Nobility and facing declining audiences for Italian opera by 1735, Handel ventured into theatrical productions of oratorios in English at the newly opened Covent Garden Theatre under the King’s patronage, featuring himself as virtuoso soloist in new and borrowed concerto movements to be inserted during intervals. When the first set of Six Concertos for the Organ or Harpsichord was published as Op. 4 in 1738, a cover note repudiating a pirated edition, ‘That the Public may not be imposed on with a mangled Edition’, would attest to their early popularity.
A ’new concerto’ in F, later known as ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’ and commonly numbered thirteenth of sixteen, completed shortly before the tepidly received premier of Israel in Egypt on April 14, 1739, would have provided a chirpy interlude between the weighty and principally choral narratives of Exodus.
The solo part is notated skeletally in places, making it impossible to know how Handel himself would have fleshed it out, particularly in a movement marked only organo ad libitum. For the modern performer, fully notated movements elsewhere provide exemplars and possible substitutions. Familiarity with his styles and conventions of ornamentation is beneficial in bringing to life these pieces with something approaching Handel’s ‘volant touch’.