Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

program notes: baroque conversations 5

Thursday May 3, 2012

Handel Water Music, Selections from Suites No. 1 in F major & No. 2 in D major


Handel Organ Concerto in F major, Op. 4, No. 4


Telemann Water Music Suite in C major, TWV 55:C3


Tonight’s Baroque Conversations marks the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra debut of organist and conductor Martin Haselböck, music director of LA’s Musica Angelica, music director of the Vienna Academy Orchestra and Professor of Organ at the University of Vienna. The program features Handel’s Organ Concerto in F major, Op. 4, No. 4 and invites the audience to compare Water Music by Handel and Telemann.

In June of 1710, Handel was appointed to the position of Kapellmeister for the Elector of Hanover. Part of that arrangement allowed Handel to take a leave of absence right away, so that he might travel to London. The Elector agreed to the terms, knowing that he was heir to the British throne and understanding that he was, as Winton Dean put it, “transferring Handel from one of his pockets to another.” Handel spent eight months in London with an eye to composing operas for the Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket. When he returned to Hanover in the beginning of 1711, Handel’s dreams of writing operas was put on the backburner, since Hanover was not a center for opera. He satisfied himself with different kinds of pieces for voice and instruments, but it is certain that Handel wanted to get back to London as soon as possible. In the fall of 1712, the Elector granted him another leave, but told him he must return “within a reasonable time.” Handel did not intend to return, and indeed he did not. Although the Elector knew he wasn’t exactly losing Handel in London, Handel’s refusal to return couldn’t have made him happy.

The Elector soon ascended to the English throne — ruling as George I — and Handel again became one of his subjects. Legend has it that Handel, in order to get back into the King’s good graces, composed Water Music, a collection of three instrumental suites. The piece was played on a barge, which is why the instrumentation is somewhat unique. There is no harpsichord or timpani, for example. Tonight’s concert features selections from the first two suites, the first in F major and the second in D major. Both suites feature stylized dances like Minuets and Bourées, and each one begins with a French overture, a movement with two parts: a slower, stately processional, and a quicker imitative section.

By the time Handel composed the Organ Concerto on tonight’s program, he had achieved popular success as an opera composer in London and was working in another genre, the oratorio. Handel invented the organ concertos as part of the oratorio
program, to be played in the intervals between the acts. The Organ Concerto in F major, Op. 4, No. 4 was composed in 1735 and was performed with Handel’s oratorio Athalia. Handel’s virtuosity on the keyboard—for he was the intended performer—provided a great complement to the skill of the singers in the oratorio.

Georg Philipp Telemann was born a few years after Handel and the two were actually well acquainted. Telemann was good friends with Bach, and was even godfather to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Telemann worked in Germany, but his technique also encompassed elements of the French and Italian styles. Although he lived into the 1760s, he never fully adopted the Classical idioms that were becoming popular, preferring the complex counterpoint of the Baroque. Like his contemporary, Handel, Telemann composed operas and oratorios, and like Bach, he wrote many cantatas. Telemann was also quite prolific in writing instrumental music. In 1721, Telemann was invited to become the director of the five main churches in Hamburg. (He was also attracted by the prominence of the Hamburg Opera House.) His position required an immense amount of new compositions including two new cantatas every Sunday, cantatas for special occasions, and oratorios for church consecrations. In addition to all this, Telemann still found time to conduct a collegium musicum and compose operas. He did not do this unopposed, however. Elders in Hamburg wanted to keep Telemann from writing operas, but he countered by applying for another job. Although Hamburg wasn’t willing to let Telemann go, they did not raise any more objections to his extra-curricular activities, and even raised his salary. In fact, Telemann eventually became the director of the Hamburg Opera.

Telemann’s Water Music was composed in 1723 for the 100th anniversary of the Admiralty in Hamburg, but unlike Handel’s, it was not actually meant to be played on the water. Rather, it was part of a celebratory piece for the Admiralty, which protected the shipping trade and maintained navigation points on Hamburg’s river, Elbe. The Elbe provided an outlet to the North Sea and was a busy center of maritime commerce. This was a huge festival for both the merchants and for Hamburg’s local government. Telemann’s Water Music begins predictably with a French overture, but the ensuing suite is especially pictorial, as the composer named some of the movements for mythological deities associated with the sea. The sea goddess Thetis makes an appearance, as do Neptune and his son Triton. Telemann also depicted the winds in the sections named for Aeolus and Zephyr. The piece ends with a dance from the Canary Islands in honor of the sailors of Elbe.

– Christine Gengaro, PhD

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