Denis Bédard was born in Québec City, pursuing his musical studies at the Conservatoire de Québec where he received First Prizes with honors in chamber music, harpsichord and organ (under Claude Lavoie) [...]
Handel: The complete organ concertos, vol. 2
They spoke about it
On March 5, 1735, The London Daily Post announced: “At the Theatre-Royal in Covent-Garden, this present Wednesday… will be perform’d an Oratorio, called ÆSTHER. With several New Additional Songs; likewise two new Concerto’s on the Organ.” This is the first in the series of newspaper announcements through which we can follow the close association of oratorio and concerto; it is also the first that testifies to the birth of a new genre, the organ concerto.
The two concertos in question were published by Walsh, in October of 1738 (with four more, to make up the customary series of six), in response, it seems, to a pirated edition that had appeared a few month earlier: “Whereas,” Walsh advertised, “there is a spurious and incorrect Edition of six Concerto’s of Mr. Handel’s for the Harpsicord and Organ, publish’d without the Knowledge, or Consent of the Author, This is to give Notice…That there are now printing, from Mr. Handel’s original Manuscripts, and corrected by himself, the same Six Concerto’s, which will be publish’d in a few Days.” This edition no doubt had great success, the organ part, for the most part bare and simple, being accessible to the devoted amateur. In 1740, Walsh, wanted to follow up on this success by publishing a new set of concertos. Handel, unfortunately, had by then only composed two new concertos, one in A major, probably written for the revival of Alexander’s Feast on March 20, 1739, and one in F major (“The Cuckoo and the Nightingale”), probably accompanying the premiere of Israel in Egypt, on April 4 of that same year. Walsh published the two new concertos in keyboard arrangements, adding — again, to complete the series of six — arrangements of four of the Op. 6 concerti grossi (nos. 1, 5, 6 and 10, also composed in 1739), under the title: A Second Set of Six Concerto’s for the Harpsicord or Organ Compos’d by Mr. Handel.
In February of 1761, two years after the death of the composer, Walsh published A Third Set of Six Concertos for the Organ and Harpsicord with The Instrumental Parts… Compos’d by Mr. Handel. Opera 7ma. This edition contained five original works (the word “original,” considering the amount of borrowings present in Handel’s concerto, has a meaning of its own), as well as what seems to be a possible “creation” of the editors, the concerto no. 4. The movements Pomposo and A tempo ordinario of the Concerto op. 7 no. 6 derive from a Sinfonia in B-flat major, dated around 1747. In fact, the music from the A tempo ordinario dates even further back (1738 or 1739), as a work for solo keyboard. It is possible that from its first transcription the work was conceived as an organ concerto, the organ part of the Sinfonia already containing Organo ad libitum indications.
The various movements of the Concerto op. 7 no. 4 date from different periods of the composer’s career, and were probably put together by the editors of A Third Set. Movements 2 and 4 borrow material from a trumpet concerto in Telemann’s Musique de table, in the case of movement 2, and from previous original works, in the case of movement 4. The first movement, on the other hand, distinguishes itself: not only does it seem less derived from previously composed material, but it is also the only concerto in which the composer seems interested in pure orchestral coloring. What we witness is a gradual lighting of pastel shades, from the understated severity of the basses to the subdued angelical radiance of the strings.
The Concerto op. 7 no. 2 was finished on February 5, 1743. Its three movements rely on material borrowed from Muffat’s Componimenti Musicali per il Cembalo, a frequent source for the material in the instrumental movements of the oratorios (Samson overture, the Introduzione in Joshua, Solomon overture, etc.). The Concerto in F major is probably another non-Handel creation, this time by the editor Samuel Arnold, in 1797.
The Anglican Church of Frelighsburg, in the South of Québec, has had a Samuel Warren organ for a very long time. The organ-builder, a Montréal resident, probably built this choir-organ of eight stops in 1854. The organ-case blends perfectly with the neo-gothic style of the church. The instrument has retained a surprising freshness and it has not undergone any changes since its installation. The trumpet stop, the only one which did not function at the time of this recording, has its own pipe works. The stop called clariana, a narrow principal of the dulciana type, uses low-pitched pipes from the bourdon.
The Organ builder: Samuel Warren Samuel Russell Warren (Triverton, R.I. 1809 – Montréal 1882) received his organ-building training in Appleton in the United States. He settled permanently in Montréal in 1836 and very quickly achieved a wide and lasting reputation, building more than four hundred instruments. He taught his apprentices, his sons Charles S. and Louis Mitchel, who themselves became well-known in Canadian organ-building. Warren was, in fact, the first professional organ-builder and he laid the basis for the development of the organ-building industry Canada. He also introduced new organ components such as Barker’s pneumatic lever (1851), the hydraulic bellows (1860) and relatively new stops such as harmonic flutes and free reeds. Unfortunately, the large instruments Warren built no longer exist or have been reworked. But the choir-organs in the churches of Chambly, Frelighsburg and Dunham have resisted the ravages of time and also of fashion. – Antoine Bouchard
Composition of the Instrument
Swell – Manual 8′
Stopped Diapason 8′
Fifteenth Pedal 16′
Bourdon Pedal Coupler 4′
The sixteen Handel concertos included in this series were performed on antique Québec organs. The small size of these instruments suggested the limited scale of the orchestra. Mechanical noises are common in organs of this period and should not come as a surprise to listeners. These noises are represented here as faithfully as is the music.
© Alex Benjamin
Translation: Rachelle Taylor