Sabbath musical delight: Händel’s keyboard suite in D minor, HWV 428

Georg Friedrich Händel (or George Frederick Handel, for the English) is best known for his orchestral music (e.g. “Water Music”, “Music for the Royal Fireworks”) and his oratoria (particularly the “Messiah”). Being an organist and harpsichordist himself, he also wrote a large collection of keyboard and organ music. (There is a story about a musical “duel” at the Saxon court between him and Domenico Scarlatti: the judges ruled the contest a draw, with Händel superior on the organ and Scarlatti on the harpsichord.)

Händel’s organ concerti are somewhat well-known (and crowd pleasers): his works for solo keyboard have been neglected a little, standing in the tall shadow of Scarlatti, and both of them in the tallest shadow of them all, J. S. Bach.

A few solo keyboard pieces are well known, particularly the tuneful “Harmonious Blacksmith” variations from the Suite in E major HWV 430, and of course the grave, stately Sarabande from the suite in D minor HWV 437 is widely known as an orchestral arrangement, especially since its use as the theme music of Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”. (It is based on La Folia, a set chordal sequence that filled some of the same roles to musicians and improvisers of the day as the 12-bar blues does to blues and rock musicians. I will blog about that one another time.)

The suite in D minor HWV 428, as its fifth movement contains a charming set of an aria with five variations (“Air and Double 1-5”) that I like a lot. Below follow some performances of either the whole suite or just the Air and Doubles.

Sviatoslav Richter’s performance, as always a little idiosyncratic but enlightening. The Air starts at 8:42, the variations at 13:51.

Eric Heidsieck (V. Aria and Variations, audio only)

Dutch pianist Daria van den Bercken on AVRO TV, the whole suite

And finally Vasilisa Bogorodskaya, with score displayed along with the music. (She does not observe repeats, hence her recording is shorter even allowing for tempo differences.)

Enjoy and shabbat shalom!

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