Handel’s Organ Concertos, Op 4, HWV 289–294, are favourite of mine and have provided infinite pleasure, especially on weekend mornings. These are six organ concertos for chamber organ and orchestra composed in London between 1735 and 1736 and published in 1738 by the printing company of John Walsh. Written as interludes in performances of oratorios in Covent Garden, they were the first works of their kind for this combination of instruments and served as a model for later composers.
Handel’s prowess as an organist had already been demonstrated in Rome in 1707 in a contest with the composer Domenico Scarlatti, when his playing on the organ was rated higher than Scarlatti’s playing on the harpsichord; his reputation as a great organist had already been established during his one year position as cathedral organist in Halle in 1702. Handel’s organ concertos thus have a special place in his oeuvre. They paved the way for Mozart and Beethoven, who like Handel achieved fame in their lifetimes as composers and performers of their own concertos.
It is surmised that when Handel faced financial difficulties in mounting Italian opera (exacerbated by a newly established opera company in fierce competition for an audience), decided to showcase himself as a virtuoso composer-performer, thus providing a rival attraction to the celebrated castrato Farinelli, the glittering star of his competitors. This pandered to the taste of the 1730s London theatre audiences, which were constantly clamouring for novelty and displays of virtuosity on the musical stage. Fortunately, the resulting concertos were not only able to satisfy this demand, but are also musically wonderful.
Here is The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra with Ton Koopman, organ and direction from the keyboard.