HWV301 and All That: The History of Handel's 'Oboe Concertos'

By Burrows, Donald | Musical Times, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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HWV301 and All That: The History of Handel's 'Oboe Concertos'


Burrows, Donald, Musical Times


THE LETTER FROM David Humphreys (MT, Winter 20.10, p. 3) surveys territory that is familiar to those of us that have had to return from time to time to the preparation of work-lists for the compositions òf Handel: there is always a pause when we reach the category of 'concertos for solo instrument with orchestra' and move beyond the relative safety of the organ concertos.

To take David Humphreys's last point first, the description of H WV287 as 'Oboe Concerto no. 3' should by now be a dead issue. The numbering was an accident of the way that Friedrich Chrysander presented the concertos in vol.21 of the Händelgesellschaft edition (1865). Although we would regard it as anomalous, the numbering was entirely rational at the time. The volume presented the three items attributed to Handel in Walsh's anthology Select Harmony, Fourth Collection (1740) - the 'Alexander's Feast Concerto' HW V3 18, and the concertos HWV301 and 302a - followed by the Oboe Concerto HWV287, which was at that stage known only from a printed edition that had recendy been published by J. Schuberth, Leipzig, in 186364. The title page to that edition described the work as 'Concert für Oboe [...] im Jahre 1703 in Hamburg componirt von G. F. Händel', and a footnote to the first music page asserted that 'Diese Partitur ist genau nach dem Mànuscripte gestochen'. Unfortunately the source 'Manuscripte1 was not made available to Chrysander, and remains untraceable today: in HG 21 the best that Chrysander could do was to remove the obvious heavy editorial interventions (mainly in the way of dynamics and articulation marks) from the Schuberth edition. The placing of this concerto after the pieces derived from Select Harmony, and thus as the third 'Oboe Concerto', reflected the lateness and uncertain provenance of the source - a publication from 1740 was given preference over one from the 1860s.

I admit that, given the uncertain source situation, I from time to time had unworthy thoughts about the authenticity of HWV287, even though there are some tell-tale musical cross-references to Handel's other works. Given the limited survival of Handel's -pvt-Almira music, all kinds of things might be passed off as an 'early work' of his: was this one in fact a mid-icjthcentury invention, cleverly incorporating some known Handelian material? However, the situation Was changed in 1993 when Gerhard Poppe revealed the existence of an early set of part-books for this concerto, attributed to Handel, and with the solo instrument designated for flute or oboe.1 (A new edition of the concerto based on this source, edited by Terence Best, was published in 2002.) The echtheit of the work thus moved into a new altitude: furthermore, although there is still no way of substantiating the statement about its composition in Hamburg, the musical content of the concerto is plausible for that period. Bernd Baselt was therefore correct to place the work in the catalogue of Handel's works in Händel-Handbuch iv with an HWV number that preceded the other 'oboe concertos'. If serial numbering is taken to reflect chronology, 'no.3' is wrong, but ? WV287' is right, on the basis of our current evidence. It is time that the 19th-century numbering was abandoned.

The other two 'oboe concertos', HWV301 and HWV302a, present different situations even though they were originally published together.1 There is no doubt about the Handelian authenticity of the musical content in HWV3Q2a: the concerto welds together two of the two-movement sonatas that had formed the overtures to the Cannons anthems from 1717- 18, transposed to Bb major. The second pair of movements had more recently been used (in the originally notated key) in Handel's Trio Sonata op. 5 no. i, published in 1739, the Year before Select Harmony. While there is good evidence of Handel's participation in the preparation of op.5, we do not know whether the form of HWV3023 as found in Sélect Harmony was the result of any initiative from the composer, received any approval from him, or was produced entirely without his knowledge.

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