Born into a family of organists, Robert Girard began his musical studies with his father, in Rivière-du-Loup. This was followed by courses with his uncle, Willie Girard, and with Father Léon [...]
They spoke about it
Winton Dean, in his Handel’s Dramatic Oratorios and Masques , wrote: “Sooner or later in considering’s Handel’s style we are confronted by the question that has probably consumed more ink that any other aspect of the man or his music — the so-called borrowings.”
Why, indeed, did Handel borrow so much? Biographers and musicologists, before and after Dean, have asked the question. Naturally, answers have tended to follow the lines dictated by the particular horizon of the debate, that is, whether the question is debated on ethical or on æsthetic grounds. From a purely historical point of view, there is no “problem of the borrowings.”
Many have emphasize that borrowing was a common practice in the baroque era. It is also known that imitation was, in Handel’s days, an integral part of a composer’s learning process. In Handel’s case, this has lead some commentators — here ethics and æsthetics merge — to state that the composer never quite got rid of the imprint of this formative technique, insinuating, as such, that he never fully developped personal and inexhautible ressources for his imagination.
Among the various kinds of borrowings is most often found the incipit, a short and characteristic musical pattern that can serve as “generating motive” for an entire movement. Some of Handel’s manuscripts actually show that not only did he copy some of these musical formulæ exactly as they were originally in other composers’ works, but that he also notated some in an already altered form, obviously for future use. These incipits often served as basic material for improvisations.
Since a part of Handel’s instrumental music might be slightly varied transcriptions of original keyboard improvisations, it should not come as a surprise, therefore, that such a great quantity of borrowings are found. The borrowing of an entire movement is rare, but nevertheless present, most often in the concertos as self-borrowing. For example, the Gavotte of the Concerto op. 7 no. 5 was originally in the recorder sonata Op. 1 no. 1 as well as in a flute sonata in E minor, both by Handel, and the Menuet of this same concerto is also part of the overtures of Alceste and Jephta. The Concerto op. 4 no. 4 is a transcription, with slight changes, of the recorder sonata Op. 1 no. 11, also by Handel.
There are two other possible explanations for Handel’s borrowing habits. According to the first, it is the intense competition within an increasingly mercantile society — forcing the composer to produce at a frantic rate — that increased the composer’s natural inclination to use previously written material. A second hypothesis would be that the use of these “resources” — and it does augment after 1737 — is linked to the illness of the spring of that year. The borrowing problem, if indeed problem there is, is not about to be solved definitively. Lack of inventive powers, too much work and not enough time, habit acquired during his youth, the illness of 1737, all these hypothesis have the advantage, or the disadvantage, of being satisfying.
In 1874, the parish of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Québec, was equipped with a ten-stop Déry organ that for more than a century did not require any major repairs event though in winter the church was heated only on Sundays. The organ, therefore, really did need a complete restoration, and this was carried out by the firm of Guilbault-Thérien. this instrument was the first built by Napoléon Déry, and eloquently demonstrates the intelligence and taste of the organ-builder. The experience no doubt enabled him to later build more supple and quieter actions than that found in the Saint-Roch organ. Its rich sonority is surprising, even by today’s standards, given the limited resources from which the organ was built.
The Organ builder: Napoléon Déry
The workshop of Napoléon Déry was situated in the Faubourg Saint-Jean quarter of Québec City. In spite of the fact he only produced a small number of instruments, several of them have survived in almost their original condition in the churches of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies (1874), Saint-Joachim (1885), Saint-Isidore (1889) and Saint-Michel-de-Bellechasse (1897). The instruments of Neuville (1880), Cap-Santé (1884), and particularly Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Québec (1886), built by Déry but subsequently restored by Casavant, have kept a considerable number of their original pipes.
Déry imported his fine quality pipes from a London organ-builder, Pierce, who probably prevoiced the works before shipping. Contrary to many of his contemporaries, Déry preferred mixtures without thirds and with relatively light principals, a combination which gives his plenums great clarity.
– Antoine Bouchard
Composition of the Instrument
Manual Diapason 8′ Open 4′ Principal Twelfth Mixture 11 8′ Bass Diapason 8′ Treble Diapason 4′ Flûte d’Amour 4′ Bass Flauto Traverso 4′ Melodia 8′ Oboe (viol) Pedal 16′ Bourdon Pedal Coupler Octave Coupler
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