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Analysis and Interpretation in the Performance of Handel's Concerti Grossi, op.

6 Author(s): Channan Willner Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 130, No. 1753 (Mar., 1989), pp. 138-141 Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd. Stable URL: . Accessed: 02/09/2011 18:46
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Channan Willner

in and interpretationthe Concerti Grossi, op.6

of performance

of Performers Baroquemusic, on periodas well as on moderninstruments,have often been accusedof proand styleof playing,one motinganinexpressive inflexible and basedon a misguided mechanical type of fidelityto a the printedtextthatsidesteps needto cultivate perthe sonalview of the music, and thus one that of necessity displays a rigid uniformityof tempo, dynamicsand accentuation. Whilethe 'uninterpreted' playing,in the of that manner, hasbeentheproduct this sewing-machine becomescarce,onefindsanincreashas approach hardly on ing numberof performances, particularly authentic thatcombinestylisticpropriety textual and instruments, withmusical and individual fidelity originality a distinctly and Linde's touch - JohnEliotGardiner's HansMartin of orchestral choralmasterworks and accounts the major of BachandHandel,forinstance,or L'Ecoled'Orphee's magisterialrecordingof Handel's complete chamber successful from music,to namea fewparticularly examples the recent past. Even the most appealingrenditions, showlapsesin judgment matters in however,sometimes of pacing,timing, choiceof agogicsand the like which forresultfromfailingto takeimportant tonal,rhythmic, of features themusicintoconsideration. mal,andregistral In this brief articleI should like to present several on analyticalobservations a numberof passagesfrom Handel's Concerti Grossi, op.6,whichI hopewouldprove usefulin pointingto the kindof specialyet rather elusive featurethat requiresparticular attention compositional in performance. Thesearepassages whichidentifying in the contextual or meaningof a problematic progression one belies repetition (especially whosesimpleappearance can its realcomplexity) be instrumental fosteringan in expressivestyle of playing,one that is basedon understandingthe musicalcontent ratherthan on arbitrary I choice. In particular shouldlike to dwell, thoughnot exclusively,on severalinstancesin whicha reprisethat is onlyapparent a serves compositional otherthan purpose and recapitulation thusrequires specialtreatment the by the of performer, including adoption nuances,shadings, andother,moreforthright meansof expression, need the forwhoseemployment implicitin the music.My aplies 138

will technical: proach of necessitybe somewhat owingto fromBach's, maskcomto Handel's so tendency, different withthemisleading of the plexities appearance simplicity, rather closestudyif theirsignificance demand examples is to becomefullyapparent.I shalldeliberately keepmy for simple,though,as my pursuggestions performance for poseis less to offerspecificinstructions performance on a note-by-note basisthanit is to illustrate needfor the in differentiation expression theperand greater shading, formanceof Handel'smusic. The precisedepictionof in the observations performance, especially and analytical towhichonemay(ormaynot)wishtoportray them degree - these mustbe left to the discretion the performer. of The G major fromthe Concerto Polonaise Grossoin E minorhasbeencitedmorethanonceas an earlyif rather coincidental manifestation incipientsonataform.2At of least fromthe vantageof large-scale harmonic organization, however, the reprise, which begins in bar 47, not of represents a returnto the tonicbut something an betweenthe developmental interpolation passagesthat followthe centraldoublebar(verybrieflyextendingthe and cadential motion keyof E minor/major) thelong-span fromC to D andto Gthatfollowstheonsetof the reprise, in bars53-57-73 (see and Ib). It is the arrival at C, ratherthanthe entranceof the reprise,thatis the majorevent here. Handelhas purposelykept the tonal framework a stateof fluxfromthedoublebaron, deparin ting quicklyfrom E at bar 41 and leadingto a weakly of introduction G in bars46-47 and also to a prepared much-abbreviated of quotation the openingbarsin bars 47 - 51; he now establishes cadentially employsit C and to clarify,refocusand tightenthe harmonic framework beforecontinuing to D, allowingC to supersede on the preceding harmoniesand having us reinterpretthe tonic, G, as its dominant ex. lb; (see preceding apparent
'Readers will note the influence of Heinrich Schenker and his increasingly popular analytical approach here. An excellent study of the intimate links between this approach and performance is C. Burkhart: 'Schenker's Theory of Levels and Musical Performance', in AspectsofSchenkerianTheory, David Beach, ed. (London and New Haven, Connecticut, 1983), 95-112. Era (New York, 1947), 361; S. Sadie: Handel 2M. Bukofzer: Musicin theBaroque Concertos (London, 1972), 44

Ex. 1 Op. 6, No. 3; Polonaise a) Bars 39-40, 47-53

Ex. 2 Op. 6, No. 5; Allegro (fifth movement) a) Bars 41, 44-47 4r 44

] fL >]T ifr



-9"#C. Ir
b) Harmonic framework

, gt


crescendo, [Suggested: ] allargando

51 A t


1 15 40

41 45 48 - 53 57 58 67 68


- -9h





4 5

[suggested: cresendo, slight accelerando]

b) Harmonic framework 1 22 32 33 Bars ,t -~


35 40 42 44 46 47 52 'Reprise'




72 73


VI passing
VI passing




c) Rhythmic reduction, bars 40-53 Bars 40




.: ' / "1% fI \ ' I I;


----. i I ,1^77i




'Reprise' ..I...

I Ivl III i


. pa.

Expanded two-bar group

C alsohelps consolidatethe rhythmicstructure,which consistently supports the cycle of descending fifths E - A - D - G in the bass in bar 40ff with two-bar groups at every turn except at G: here, in orderto underscorethe tonal interpolation a corresponding rhythmicinterpolaby tion, it presents the opening of the reprise as an improvisatorysix-barexpansionof the second barof G's fundamentaltwo-bargroup - see ex. Ic). The sheer auraleffect of the entrance of C, both tonally and rhythmically, represents one of the great moments in Handel's instrumentalmusic. A performancethat took the imbalance between G and C and the galvanisingquality of C into account would naturally acknowledge the entrance of the reprise (through a slight ritardandoand by adopting Handel's explicit forte and the emphasis it implies in bar 47), but would prepareand announcethe arrivalof C with a substantialcrescendo acrossbars 51 - 52 (in keeping with the thickening texture), and lead on to an emphatic accentuation of C as it enters at the turn of bar 53. Most recorded performances, as it happens, make no attempt to differentiate between G and C, and treat the two key areas (and those that precede and follow them) exactly alike: as a result, both their shape and cumulative impact suffer a great deal. A similar type of interpretativeproblem, but one that grows out of different tonal circumstances, arises in the

G major quotation of the ritornello-like theme in the Allegro (fifth movement) from the D major Concerto Grosso. The quotation starts on a bass pedal G (bars 41 - 44) and serves to signal the entrance of the Allegro's large-scalesubdominant(exx.2a and 2b). Insteadof drawing to a close as expected on an imperfect cadence in its fifth bar, the quotation quite surprisingly continues on to A and to an extended D in bars45 -47 (see ex.2a). This unexpected, unpreparedand ultimately deceptive return to what might seem to be the home key only serves to extend G (in the mannerof a long, if ratherveiled, imperfect cadence) and afford a transition to the developmental group of bars that in turn leads to the true A and D (the long-span dominant and tonic), which finally appear in bars 57 and 68 (see ex.2b). It is the very absence of any marked melodic or rhythmic support for the quotation's move to the apparent D, coupled with the syncopated of appearance D on the thirdbeatof the fifth barof a sevenbar phrase, that lends the entrance of the would-be tonic not only its force of surprisebut also an exquisitely iridescent quality, as well as a propellingcontrapuntalforce that does much to underscore the theme's characteristically dissonant melodic figurations. In performance, the shift to D might (to nameone of severalpossibilities)be marked by a very slight allargandoand by a strong syncopated emphasis on D, and underlined by a corresponding crescendo; certainlytreatingall seven barsof the theme's quotation alike, as most conductors and groups do, represents a contradiction of the tonal direction in which the music unfolds. In the Allegro (fourth movement) from the D minor Concerto Grosso, the simulated return to the tonic (bar 17) supportsa seeming reprise(bars 17 - 20, ex.3a), much as it does in our first example, but a reprise that is thematically as well as tonally only apparent. Although quite elaborately prepared by the harmonic and thematic spinning-out that follows the central double bar, the reprisehere serves to link the mediant, F, which had been established just before the double bar, and the relatively brief but registrallyand thematically climactic subdominant, G (bar 21, ex.3b), to which the apparent tonic of the reprise essentially serves as an extended preparatory 139

dominant(see ex.3b). The purposeof the repriseis to allow Ex. 4 6, No. 12; (second movement) the movement to rest and regainits strength - reculerpour Op. 1-3 Allegro a) Bars mieux sauter, as Edward T. Cone might describe it3 :; j j rrrrrrrr rrT. before continuingon to the climacticbars (21 - 24), which (soF) ftirr help outline a poetic enlargement of the Allegro's prinrrr .,>, rrfrFPrfrfrFrfrfr fLr rLrFrIrr cipal motif (ex.3c). To achieve the temporary ebb, the of the opening theme is stretched out in time quotation and left incomplete, and the expanses opened up by its Bars 1 15- 40- 55- 74 75 enlargementaremarkedby long rests and by reducedhar20 46 58 which togetherlend monic activityin the accompaniments, 'Reprise' framework b) Harmonic 6th 6th the music a distinct touch of pathos (compareexx.3a and It is precisely this thematic and texturalebb that per3d). ' ': .-9 I I formers ought to bring out - by means of an allargando . i m vI ibecomes 6Mh F to underscore the broader design and thinner texture of I v I m the reprise, and through a more sustained and deliberate can present these frequent descents without difficulty or rendition of the transmogrified theme. awkwardness. Among the numerous devices of registral Ex. 3 (fourth Op.6, No. 10;Allegro movement) play that Handel employs is the long-span inversion and Bars17-20 a) enlargement of the essentially compact tonal space traversed by the bass line from the beginning of the mover'- >t tr 'rr 7 rci"sr r ment to its end (namely an arpeggiatedascent from B to n ^- S , \ F by way of D) into a farwider space encompassing two 9^ ( r4^ r r1 7 r r ' 7 J1 1 descending arpeggiated sixths, B-Ft- D (bars 1-15/ see 20-40/46) and D-B-FFt (bars 46-55/58-74, ex.4b; as the square brackets show, the sixths help exframework b) Harmonic Bars 1 6 7 10 15 17 21 22 23 24 25 28 pand, on the whole, the ritornello'scharacteristicdescending sixth). It is within the second descending sixth, D-B-Fg , that Handel introduces the false reprise, I V m IV I which allowsthe Allegro to assumean outwardsemblance of traditionalritornellodesign without impeding the flow of c) Motive expansion bar1 in bars17-23 of its through-composed structure. The reprise is again quite incomplete and it is followed not by materialderived from the opening bars but by a dramatically becomes developmentaltransitionbackthatleadson to the climactic Bars 17 22 21 23 24 returnto the tonic (bars71 - 73 - 74), and to the final statement of the ritornello(bar74ff). Especiallyin this instance the false reprise should be distinguished from the later r 'lr LJ and much more elaboratelypreparedrecapitulation:the highest dynamic, temporaland accentualemphasisshould d) Bars1-3 be reservedforthe closingstatement,andthe earlierdeceptive quotation should be treated only as an anticipation L '-i _ r' r L-ri-mr. f r. _ kw ; rp of the movement's outcome - not as a framing conclur "--I L r I_ [senzabasso] sion to the events that had already transpired.4 For our final example, let us turn to a Concerto Grosso Although a seeming reprise can (and often does) play a ratherprofound role in working out the essential ideas movement, the closing Allegro from the A minor Conof a composition, it frequentlyowes its existenceprimarily certo, in which long-range registral transformationand to compositionalcircumstancesand requirementsthat are expansion is itself the essential issue at play. Here Handel of an entirely practicalnature. The preceding example is introducesand developsthe basicthematicmaterial,worka casein point; anotheris foundin the greatAllegro(second ing it out principally through repetition, at the lower movement) from the Concerto Grosso in B minor. Here reachesof the two-line octave in the first half of the moveone of the ritornello'smost importantfeaturesis the sweep- ment (bars 1 -67, ex.5a). All of a sudden, having already ing descent through the span of a sixth, in both treble and begun to state the ritornello and the ensuing passages in bass, which occupiesits firstthreebars(ex.4a). Manytimes contractedform in the key of the dominant, E minor (bars over Handel must find ways to regain and maintain the 57-67), Handel has the composition skip up to the width of the movement's large tonal ambitus so that he



[Suggested: allargando; sustained rendition

3see Cone: Musical Form and Musical Performance (New York, 1968), 24

4Although Handel marks only the false reprise forte (b.55), the same marking is implicit also in b.74, where it is tacitly held over from the forte at the upbeat to b.71.


higher reachesof the two-line octave and trespassinto the three-line octave (bars 67-73), a dramatic gesture he repeats twice more (bars 78-83 and 94-99, ex.5b). So insistent and powerful are the three registralchanges and the new motivic work they support, and so strong is their link to the continual reassertionof E in the face of the adof vancingre-establishment A, that they quite literallytake over the compositionand asserttheir controlof its registral and structuraldesign, lending a long rising contour to its largeroutlines (note the stepwise summaryof the registral changein the coda, bar 100ff, as shownin ex.5c). To depict this gradual and quite profound shift - which possibly and containsprogrammatic symbolicsignificance- in perone should intensify progressively the rendiformance, tion of each rising motion in turn, and lead to a climactic account of the closing progression(whose treble also provides the necessary denouement descending gradually by from the high c"' to a" in bars 94-99 - see ex.5b). A cursoryreview of the presently availablerecordingsof the Concertowill indicate that this ratherobvious suggestion is hardly gratuitous. It would be presumptuous to suggest that comprehensive structural analyses such as those on which the present observations are based represent a prerequisite for the successful performanceof Handel's music. Although analysis can indeed promote more perceptive playing, there is much that can, and must, be done by instinct. Instinct, however, can be educatedand cultivatedin many ways - analysis is one of them - and possessing an

Ex. 5 (fourth movement) Op.6, No. 4; Allegro a) Bars 1-3


3:3 ! ; a

( <6)

b) Bars67-71,78-82,94-99 e vlnI (concertinoripieno)

: f

if -vniC r .....

;r-- l

d? 94 ~~5~
94 7 r

: I

#J,1 6r i


in c) Registral summary coda (bars100-109)

5' i1 So 105 ML
lo L r


-;-~ -

educated instinct is of the essence if one is to approach such phenomenaas deceptiverepetitionsand falsereprises thoughtfully, and render them expressively in performance.





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