Handel - Allegro from Suite in G HWV441
This Allegro is taken from a set of Suites for harpsichord published around 1733. Suites were a very common type of music at that time, often using stylised dance forms in a standard order.
This Suite has seven movements (Allemande - Allegro - Courante - Aria - Minuet - Gavotte – Gigue). The Allegro names no dance origin, and resembles a cross between a Courante (which however was in 3-time) and the sort of improvised Prelude that was common in those days based on chords and scale figures.
These preludes dated back to the practice of lutenists who needed to check the sound of different harmonies on their instruments after tuning and before launching into their programme, hence the extended use of arpeggiated chords in this genre.
Here is a performance on Baroque lute of a piece by Weiss, a contemporary of Handel.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This is a marvellous teaching piece for many purposes. It can be used to encourage attempts at Baroque-style improvisation; to show how chord progressions underpin this type of music; to improve articulation and agility; to demonstrate just how vital it is to know one's scales and arpeggios; to practise ornaments; to examine how a few musical ideas can be formed into a composition; to show how phrases are shaped out of what appear to be endless rows of notes the same value.
Any student who is open to learn and apply any of these lessons will get a real sense of satisfaction from this piece.
It will not be helpful as a performance option for a student who is easily bogged down in note-by-note detail or whose left hand development has been allowed to lag far behind that of the right.
Style & Tempo
The Baroque keyboard suite was a favoured vehicle for composers to show their originality within the boundaries of well-known dance forms. It had direct parallels in suites for other instruments and there is a wealth of material for the student to explore in listening.
Try Telemann's keyboard suites (there are some useful clear examples of the dance types on “Per Chiesa et Per Camera” recorded by George Gifford on the Meridian label).
Listen here to Concerto Stella Matutina - Sonata per Chiesa et Camera.
Phrasing & Articulation
This music shows the Baroque tendency to elide phrases and avoid expected cadences. The first perfect cadence comes at Bar 6 but phrasing will be needed before then to avoid an impression of relentless semiquaver movement.
An obvious first phrasing point would be halfway through Bar 2 where the music takes a new turn into a sequence.
There is then no opportunity to break the flow until Bar 6.
After this it can be thought of in two-bar phrases until the extra twist of the scale flourish before the double bar. The way the musical material is re-used in the second part will show similarly where phrasing can be inferred.
Current conventions for articulating this type of music have been derived from harpsichord technique and work well here: quavers lightly detached and the semiquaver touch generally “off the key” rather than fully legato.
Tone & Texture
The texture alternates two-part counterpoint and broken chords. The LH is generally more of an accompaniment than an equal partner, so it should not be overplayed in places such as Bars 6-8 where the effect should be more of an echo.
In Bars 1-4 and similar, where there are tied notes over broken chords, the piano allows for a more singing tone than a harpsichord would, especially if the chords are played quite lightly (imagine how you would play this texture if it were by Schumann).
Tone in performance is likely to be based on a harpsichord sound but it is worth experimenting with other possibilities (such as the Schumann idea above, and touches of pedal) if only to dismiss them.
Tone, touch texture and articulation are very much related in this piece. Listen to the audio for further explanation and demonstration.
For the RH, this piece is an adroit mixture of chord and scale playing, with plenty of ornaments to trip the unwary. Security, control and evenness are essential. Tension can build up in anticipation of ornaments, so they should be practised slowly and in very relaxed fashion.
Finger agility is best achieved by regular use of exercises and warm-ups. A simple warm-up for this piece would be to play scales in broken thirds rather like those in Bar 9.
Remember to look ahead, especially where a RH tied note needs to be held over a chord but is also followed by a higher note – the first note of Bar 1 is the first example of this: the G should be fingered with 4 not 5, to enable the B to be played afterwards. However, there is no need to try and make legato connections after every tied note, as a small break can help give effect to phrasing and provide lightness.
In the descending broken thirds in Bar 9 there are two main possibilities for a pattern to play twice (starting on the A in the second beat): 4 2 3 1 3 1 (4..) or 5 3 4 2 3 1 (5...).
Prior to this the anacrusis and first five semiquavers of Bar 9 could be 1 4 3 2 3 1 3 1 or 2 5 4 3 4 2 3 1. The fingerings involving 5 are closer to what is normally used in scales in “double thirds” to achieve legato but are not strictly necessary here if the student prefers to use stronger fingers.
There are several different ornaments in this piece, all marked for the RH: the first is a simple lower mordant (Bar 3 etc).
At Bar 6 the crotchet A can be trilled from above in demisemiquavers, with or without a turn at the end.
At Bar 10 the trill is a short shake starting on the note above.
A similar ornament is intended on the crotchets in Bars 19-20.
It has long been considered inappropriate to pedal baroque keyboard music played on the piano, since the harpsichord and clavichord had no such possibility.
However, through the 19th and early 20th century nobody saw any harm in using the piano's full resources on early music. This piece could be used to try to reconstruct such an approach, using a more “pianistic” style, as the broken chords could be given extra warmth by pedalling.
It could be interesting to explore the consequences of this when combined with passages which cannot be pedalled, and discover whether it is possible to construct a convincing modern piano alternative to the current “authentic” (harpsichord-based) norm.
There are exciting possibilities for holistic teaching in this piece. The first two bars consist of imperfect cadences, so the student can enjoy using their existing knowledge about the chords and inversions involved. This can lead into transposing into as many keys as the student can cope with – starting with D major, which appears after the repeat bar. They can go hunting for bars like these, and bars which are not quite the same, and see what the differences are. The chords and keys involved can be found, named, played in block and arpeggiated form, and generally played around with.
This groundwork on chords can lead to improvisation in Baroque style with a sense of ease and enjoyment: the student can plan a chord sequence, possibly including modulations, and execute it in the style of the first bar. The circle of fifths can be brought into the recipe, as found in Bars 3-5, and the student can find out how the anacrusis pattern is used to link the chords in a sequence. They can try inventing their own circle-of-fifths sequences, and it can be fun discovering how to stop once a circle has been set going!
Bars 8-10, with the anacrusis into a scale pattern leading to an ornamented cadence, repeated with an extension in 11-14, can get similar treatment as material for transposing and improvising. In this way the simplicity of the piece's building blocks can be understood and the process of improvisation which was so much part of a baroque musician's skill-set can be de-mystified.
The learning of the notes will be much easier after time has been spent in this way, and then the student needs to focus on slow work to make the fingering reliable and the semiquavers well controlled. In particular, the joins between patterns will need to be made deliberately secure so that they do not become default hesitation points.
Once the improvisation and exploring has been enjoyed, the learning of this piece will repay attention to detail from the outset, using the correct articulation even at slow speeds.
Some time has to be spent ensuring evenness, using methods such as playing semiquavers in dotted and scotch-snap rhythms.
Play broken chords as block chords to rehearse the hand position shifts.
Practise ornaments early, slowly and measured out in exact time. This will pre-empt any tendency to cram them in as an afterthought with an ad hoc number of notes. It will also enable them to be played without tension.
The ability to maintain a constant flow of semiquaver movement may falter as the notes are brought up towards performance speed.
One way to prevent this is to use a metronome, starting at a completely comfortable speed and setting the tempo just a little higher each time. However, this can seem very tedious and if so there is no harm in occasionally taking it at a risky speed to see where it breaks down.
These places can then be targeted. To avoid “practising mistakes” this approach should not be over-used – each attempt which exposes a weak spot needs to be followed by a thorough treatment of the problem before any re-testing at speed.
Handel Allegro from Suite in G HWV 441 Grade 6 Level - Listen to an extract from Richter's performance here.
An excellent performance will convey the player's sheer enjoyment of the music. There will be a relaxed facility in the technique, including ornaments which add to the sparkle and authority of the performance. Played on the piano, it will nevertheless show clearly its harpsichord origins and convey the same lightness, with carefully-managed texture, dynamics and articulation. Alternatively, a different but equally excellent performance will have grown out of thorough exploration of the possibilities of these textures on the modern piano, with carefully-considered dynamic shading, phrasing and articulation decisions which draw more widely on the sounds of instrumental music of Handel's day.
A good performance will display the light and shade in this piece. Phrases will be shaped and there will be a sense of connection with the style and with the sound and techniques of the harpsichord and clavichord. Ornaments will be stylistically appropriate and well managed. There will be a balance between consistency and variety, showing an understanding of the underlying structures. The performance will be invigorating and confident.
A sound performance will have good momentum, and the notes will be played fluently. There will be some good phrasing and dynamic contrasts. Ornaments will not be allowed to interrupt the flow (and some may be omitted to ensure this). The overall impression will be of a well-structured piece of music played with due respect to style.