The Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, or Twelve Grand Concertos,
HWV 319–330, are 12 concerti grossi by George Frideric
Handel for a concertino trio of two violins and
violoncello and a ripieno four-part string orchestra
with harpsichord continuo. First published by
subscription in London by John Walsh in 1739, in the
second edition of 1741 they became Handel's Opus 6.
Taking the older concerto da chiesa and concerto da
camera of Arcangelo Corelli as models, rather than the
later three-movement Venetian concerto of Antonio
Vivaldi favoured by Johann Sebastian Bach, they were
written to be played during performances of Handel's
oratorios and odes. Despite the conventional model,
Handel incorporated in the movements the full range of
his compositional styles, including trio sonatas,
operatic arias, French overtures, Italian sinfonias,
airs, fugues, themes and variations and a variety of
dances. The concertos were largely composed of new
material: they are amongst the finest examples in the
genre of baroque concerto grosso.
The arresting dotted rhythms of the opening largo
recall the dramatic style of the French overture,
although the movement also serves to contrast the full
orchestra with the quieter ripieno strings.
The following highly inventive movement is a brilliant
and animated allegro, a moto perpetuo. The busy
semiquaver figure in the theme, passed constantly
between different parts of the orchestra and the
soloists, only adds to the overall sense of rhythmic
and harmonic direction. Although superficially in
concerto form, this movement's success is probably more
a result of Handel's departure from convention.
The central third movement, marked Larghetto e piano,
contains one of the most beautiful melodies written by
Handel. With its quiet gravity, it is similar to the
andante larghetto, sometimes referred to as the
"minuet", in the overture to the opera Berenice, which
Charles Burney described as "one of the most graceful
and pleasing movements that has ever been composed".
The melody in 3/4 time and E major is simple and
regular with a wide range with a chaconne-like bass.
After its statement, it is varied twice, the first time
with a quaver walking bass, then with the melody itself
played in quavers.
The fourth movement is a brief largo, like an
accompanied recitative, which leads in to the final
allegro fugue. Its gigue-like theme is derived from a
fugue of Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, Handel's boyhood
teacher in Halle, to whom the movement is perhaps some
form of hommage.
Although originally written for Chamber Orchestra, I
created this simplified arrangement for String Quartet
(2 Violins, Viola & Cello).