Weekly Playlist #1: Handel for Working from Home
A curated a selection of some of the Baroque master’s greatest pieces to help keep concentration and lift your spirits whilst you work from home.
Many of us in the UK and around the world – including all the Handel & Hendrix in London team – are now working from home. While this certainly presents some challenges, one of the positives is that you can choose your own soundtrack for the day! With that in mind, we have put together an hour of music from Handel’s repertoire to help get through your working day.
Feel free to comment below or get in contact to suggest your own additions.
1. Semele: Overture
The perfect piece to introduce you to your working day; it’s dramatic and stately and will make you sit up straight and seize the day.
An overture is a piece of instrumental music written to introduce dramatic works such as opera, oratorio and ballet. Handel wrote rousing and grand introductions to his operas and oratorios that certainly excited audiences at the time, but they had no musical connection to what was to follow. It was later in the 18th century that composers began to use it as a direct introduction to the musical themes featuring in their dramatic works and leading straight into the first scene.
We have chosen the overture to Act I of Semele, which is described as a musical drama ‘in the manner of an oratorio’ but it’s basically an Italian opera in English. For Semele, Handel wrote a separate overture for all three acts, to get his audience back in the zone and ready for each new setting. Semele tells the story of a mortal princess called Semele who falls in love with the god, Jupiter. Semele dies after demanding to see Jupiter in his natural form – a fiery cloud of lightning and thunder. Semele dies in flames after being struck with Jupiter’s lightning bolts. But, don’t worry, the story doesn’t end there, from the flames emerges Semele’s unborn child who becomes Bacchus the god of Wine!
Handel’s musical writing for Semele can certainly be described as fiery and it is extremely emotive. It includes arias that often come up in Handel’s greatest hits, such as ‘Where’er you Walk’ and ‘Endless Pleasure’.
2. Bourée from Water Music
Handel’s Water Music is not about or in imitation of water. It’s actually three suites of dances written by Handel to accompany George I’s festive journey along the River Thames from Whitehall to Chelsea. Although it’s unlikely anyone was dancing due to the need to keep the boat afloat, the King is said to have enjoyed it so much that he asked to hear it three times over. The newspapers reported that there was a boat containing 50 musicians sailing alongside the King’s, and that the whole river was covered in boats full of people trying to get involved. Modern research (and common sense) has concluded that it is highly unlikely that most of the people in the extra boats would have heard any of the music across the river. In particular, the hordes of people lining the riverbanks who apparently rejoiced at hearing Handel’s music could not have heard it. Thankfully, at home you can turn it up as loud as you like.
We have chosen the Bourée from the first suite for you to listen to. The Bourée is a dance that originated in France and is a quick, uplifting tempo, perfect for productivity.
3. Keyboard Suite No. 2 in F Major IV. Allegro
This track brings to mind the benefits of solitude. Here, you will hear the harpsichord as a solo instrument without the duty of grounding an orchestra. Handel was a virtuosic harpsichordist who often performed his own compositions in public. He wrote several suites for solo harpsichord that showed off both his own skilful playing and the colour and beauty of the instrument. Handel was often depicted as an introvert and could churn out a whole opera in a matter of days. At the height of his productivity, his dedication to his work was so strong that he rarely gave himself a day off – so no weekend lie-ins for him!
We are particularly keen on this recording because it features not only our good friend Laurence Cummings playing the harpsichord but also our very own Handel House harpsichord. Laurence recorded it for the BBC in Handel’s House at 3am to make sure there wasn’t any traffic noise interrupting the recording! Now that’s dedication.
4. Suite in D minor III. Sarabande, HWV 437
This acclaimed piece by Handel was composed for solo harpsichord, at some point between 1703 and 1706, and was first published in 1733. At the time, the Sarabande was considered to be obscene but this did not stop composers like Handel adopting the dance style. Handel’s use of it for this piece has made it into one of the most recognisable pieces of all time, almost 300 years on. The piece 20th-century rediscovery has led to it being featured in many soundtracks, most notably Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film Barry Lyndon, and even an advert for Levi’s.
5. Trio sonata for 2 violins and Continuo, in D Major, op 5, no 2: Marche into Gavotte
Handel wrote so much music for small chamber ensembles. This was perfect for the small gatherings held by patrons at the various courts Handel worked for in Germany and Italy. When Handel moved into his house in London, he was able to host his own concerts for small gatherings and pieces such as this would have been perfect for such occasions.
These two tracks, one leading into the other, offer us a march tempo to help us stride through the working day, straight into a very rewarding gavotte that gives a real sense of achievement.
6. Concerto Grosso in A major
This is a spritely and energetic movement from one of Handel’s concerti grossi and is a great piece to help keep motivated in the final moments of the working day. The trio ensemble competes and collaborates with the accompanying string orchestra creating texture and drive.
A concerto grosso is generally defined as an ensemble of instruments accompanied by an orchestra. However, composers have interpreted the form in different ways over the centuries so it’s not always as clear cut as this. Handel wrote his in the style of Arcangelo Corelli, an Italian violinist and composer with whom he worked closely during his time in Rome. His Concerti Grossi op.6 (or ‘twelve grand concertos’) was written for a trio of two violins and one cello with a four-part string orchestra and harpsichord accompanying.
This fifth ‘Allegro’ movement from the concerto grosso in A major, is exciting and energetic, full of joy and anticipation. A great track to listen to as you sign off on your last e-mail for the day and head to the kitchen for a well-earned glass of vino.
Listen below for our full ‘Handel for working from home’ playlist: