Organ concertos, Op. 7 (Handel)

The Handel organ concertos, Op. 7, HWV 306–311, refer to the six organ concertos for organ and orchestra composed by George Frideric Handel in London between 1740 and 1751, published posthumously in 1761 by the printing company of John Walsh. They were written for performance during Handel's oratorios, contain almost entirely original material, including some of his most popular and inspired movements.[1]

A fine and delicate touch, a volant finger, and a ready delivery of passages the most difficult, are the praise of inferior artists: they were not noticed in Handel, whose excellencies were of a far superior kind; and his amazing command of the instrument, the fullness of his harmony, the grandeur and dignity of his style, the copiousness of his imagination, and the fertility of his invention were qualities that absorbed every inferior attainment. When he gave a concerto, his method in general was to introduce it with a voluntary movement on the diapasons, which stole on the ear in a slow and solemn progression; the harmony close wrought, and as full as could possibly be expressed; the passages concatenated with stupendous art, the whole at the same time being perfectly intelligible, and carrying the appearance of great simplicity. This kind of prelude was succeeded by the concerto itself, which he executed with a degree of spirit and firmness that no one ever pretended to equal.

— Sir John Hawkins, General History of the Science and Practice of Music. 1776.[2]


HWV Opus Key Composed Premiere Venue Published Movements Notes
306 Op. 7, No. 1 B-flat major 17 February 1740 27 February 1740 London, Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre 1761 Andante – Andante – Largo e piano – Bourrée First movement includes an independent pedal part
307 Op. 7, No. 2 A major 5 February 1743 18 February 1743 London, Covent Garden Theatre 1761 Ouverture – A tempo ordinario – Organo ad libitum – Allegro Performed with the oratorio Samson (HWV 57)
308 Op. 7, No. 3 B-flat major 1–4 January 1751 1 March 1751 London, Covent Garden Theatre 1761 Allegro – Organo (Adagio e Fuga) ad libitum – Spiritoso – Menuet – Menuet Two variant autographs of 1st movement. Handel's last orchestral work
309 Op. 7, No. 4 D minor circa 1744? 14 February 1746? 1761 Adagio – Allegro – Organo ad libitum – Allegro Performed with premiere of "The Occasional Oratorio" (HWV 62)?
310 Op. 7, No. 5 G minor 31 January 1750 16 March 1750 London, Covent Garden Theatre 1761 Allegro ma non troppo e staccato – Andante larghetto e staccato – Menuet – Gavotte Performed with Theodora (HWV 68). Final gavotte in published version probably added later by Smith Jr.
311 Op. 7, No. 6 B-flat major circa 1748–1749 1749 1761 Pomposo – Organo ad libitum – A tempo ordinario Assembled by John Christopher Smith after Handel's death for John Walsh the younger's publication


  • HWV 306 – Originally composed material. The first movement contains a quotation from the Passacaglia in the Suite in G minor for harpsichord, HWV 432.[3]
  • HWV 307 – The last movement is based on La Coquette from Suite No.6 of Componimenti musicali by Gottlieb Muffat.
  • HWV 308 – The second minuet is by an unidentified composer.
  • HWV 309 – The second movement is borrowed from Georg Philipp Telemann's Tafelmusik (1733) and the last from his own Concerto, Op. 3, No. 6.
  • HWV 310 – The first movement contains themes derived from the Trio sonatas, Op. 2, No. 1 and No. 8. The closing Gavotte is a more elaborate reworking of a movement from the organ concerto, Op. 4, No. 3. The final gavotte is also thematically related to the aria from Agrippina (HWV 6), "Non ho cor che per amarti...".
  • HWV 311 – Originally composed material.[1]

Organo ad libitumEdit

Although a complete version of the first set of organ concertos, Op. 4 appeared in Handel's lifetime in 1738, many of the concertos of the posthumous Op. 7 set have missing movements and sections, where Handel would have either used an existing movement solo keyboard from one of his other works or improvised directly. In the case of Op. 7, No.1, HWV 306, Handel actually indicates that parts of the Passacaglia from the Suite in G minor HWV 432 for harpsichord are to be played; the score already contains quotations for this work. It is also reported by contemporaries that Handel would often play a slow and quiet voluntary for organ solo as a prelude to his concertos.

After Handel's death, his amanuensis and personal assistant John Christopher Smith collaborated with the mechanical organ maker John Langshaw (1725–1798) in transcribing a selection of Handel's works for chamber barrel organ.[4] Two mechanical "organ machines", operated by a hand crank, were constructed for John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute: the first had 58 barrels, 32 of which were devoted to works by Handel, and was built by the organ-builder John Snetzler and clockmaker Christopher Pinchbeck in 1763, a year after Stuart became Prime Minister; a second had 6 extra barrels and was built by the Bond Street watchmaker Alexander Cumming, who left a detailed inventory for each barrel, including timings in seconds for each movement. One barrel contained the concertos Op. 4, No. 5 and Op. 7, No.3 and another the concerto Op. 7, No.4 with the ad libitum slow movement provided by the sarabande and variations on La Folia from Handel's Suite in D minor for harpsichord HWV 437. Cumming's inventory is all that survives of these organs, one having been destroyed in a fire in 1843. There is an existing set of barrels, however, for the chamber barrel organ made by Henry Holland around 1790, formerly in the Colt Clavier Collection and now at Hammerwood Park in Sussex. These contain two concertos HWV 290 and 294 from Op. 4 with elaborate ornamentation supplied by Smith and have been recorded by Erato.[5][6]

Two modern performing editions of the concertos by the organists and musicologists Peter Williams and Ton Koopman provide missing movements and give suggestions for the ad libitum passages, possibly too earthbound according to some commentators. The recordings of the organists George Malcolm (1976) and Richard Egarr (2009) give further possibilities, which have so far not appeared in printed editions.[3][7][8]


George Shepherd, 1811: Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, where Handel moved with his company in November 1739 and where his organ concerto HWV 306 was first performed in 1740[9]
  • HWV 306 – First performed on the double manual organ in the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, this is the unique concerto of the series with a pedal part, the pedalboard probably having been coupled to the lower register of one of the keyboards for the occasion.[10] It is on a grander and more majestic scale than the earlier Op. 4 concertos, written for the more intimate single keyboard chamber organ. The first and second movements together form a single chaconne over a ground bass, over which the organ plays a series of simple but arresting variations. There is a chaconne-like bass in the following largo which gives way to the brilliant and tuneful closing bourrée.
  • HWV 307 – This concerto is more lyrical and on a smaller scale than the first, with an unscored third movement.
  • HWV 308 – Also on a grand scale, this concerto opens with an allegro based on a motive similar to Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. It is followed by a long spiritoso based on a hornpipe. An unscored adagio and fugue leads into the two concluding minuets.
  • HWV 309 – The fourth concerto starts with a noble elegiac adagio, with passages alternating between divided cellos and bassoons and the solo organ. It is followed by an energetic and majestic allegro. An unscored slow movement leads into a lively finale in 3/8 time.
  • HWV 310 – In the opening movement, vigorous unison tutti passages alternate with more complex chromatic passages for organ alone. An improvised adagio leads into a grand andante larghetto, a series of variations for the organ over an ostinato bass, marked piano until the forte of the last variation. The concerto concludes with a conventional minuet and gavotte.
  • HWV 311 – This concerto, similar in form to a Vivaldi concerto, has three movements, the second unscored and the last containing three ad libitum sections.[1]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Abraham 1954
  2. ^ Burrows 1997, p. 221.
  3. ^ a b Derr 1991
  4. ^ Arthur W. Wainwright, ‘Langshaw, John (bap. 1725, d. 1798)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2009 accessed 19 Oct 2014
  5. ^ Malloch 1983.
  6. ^ Erato, Paris ERA 9274 (1985) Un enregistrement d'epoque, sleeve notes by Olivier Roux
  7. ^ Burrows & Dunhill 2002.
  8. ^ Burrows 1997.
  9. ^ Dean 2006, p. 398.
  10. ^ Burrows 1997, p. 222.
  11. ^ "Handel organ concertos: Tachezi & Harnoncourt".
  12. ^ "Interview with Paul Nicholson". 2002. Retrieved 23 February 2019.


Further readingEdit

  • Gudger, William D. (1973), The organ concertos of GF Handel: a study based on the primary sources, Yale University, Ph.D. dissertation
  • Handel, George Frideric (1983), Great Organ Concerti, Opp. 4 and 7, in full score, Dover, ISBN 0-486-24462-8
  • Handel, George Frideric (1941), Organ concertos, Op. 4, Schott, edition by Helmut Walcha with reduction of orchestral parts for a second keyboard
  • Handel, George Frideric (1988), Peter Williams (ed.), Organ concertos, Op. 7, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-363998-X, Organ part on two staves with orchestral tuttis, reconstructions of missing movements and ad libitum passages
  • Handel, Georg Friedrich (1989–1994), Ton Koopman (ed.), Konzerte für Orgel, Op. 7, Breitkopf & Härtel, Score and solo part with reconstructions of missing movements and ad libitum passages. Continuo realized by Jan Kleinbussink.
  • Keefe, Simon P. (2005), The Cambridge Companion to the Concerto, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-83483-X
  • Ruthardt, Adolf (1956), Six Organ Concertos: Volume II (Nos. 7–12) by G.F. Handel arranged for piano duet, Peters
  • Sadie, Stanley (1972), Handel concertos, BBC Music Guides, BBC, ISBN 0-563-10349-3
  • Sadie, Stanley; Hicks, Anthony (1987), Handel: tercentenary collection, Boydell & Brewer, pp. 271–278, ISBN 0-8357-1833-6, Chapter 15, "Handel and the Organ Concerto: What we know 250 years later", by William D. Gudger
  • Schenker, Heinrich (1949), Six Organ Concertos: Volume II (Nos. 7–12) by G.F. Handel transcribed for piano duet, International

External linksEdit