Concerto Grosso No.1

George Frideric Handel

Concerto Grosso No.1 in Bb major

HWV313, Op. 3/1

About this work

This rich orchestral composition, often mistakenly referred to as an "oboe concerto," contains some music which dates from many years before. Nevertheless, there is much fascinating and vigorous writing and interesting variation in the orchestration.

The first movement is scored for two oboes, divisi violins, as well as divisi violas (!), and two bassoons doubling the basso continuo (usually string bass and harpsichord). The initial theme is announced by all the instruments in unison, except for the oboes, which, after the strong arpeggios and descending rolling figures, enter unaccompanied on a different, jolly dance-like figure harmonized in thirds. The ensemble then overlaps, soon joining in a harmonized version of the theme with inner voices punching out the rhythm.

An ecstatic, flying violin solo then provides the first variations on the theme ending in a powerful quadruple stop. The oboes then produce variations on their previous figure as the ensemble breaks into counterpoint and canonic imitation. The oboes are then doubled by the violins in yet another beautiful timbral combination. A flashing ascent in thirty-seconds, ending in sixty-fourths, makes the main subject spring back to life. Fragments of the theme are then combined with a suggestion of the previous violin solo, which after a brief unaccompanied passage in which the oboes float in the air, then is played as a solo isolated in the very highest string registers. The oboes re-enter with rolling figures doubling the violins and the movement ends with a mere suggestion but without a recapitulation of the theme.

The second movement offers another timbral re-combination by introducing two flutes, keeping one oboe (oboe II is tacet), and making the two bassoons independent from the basso continuo part. The noble and triste theme in G minor is introduced by the flutes and answered by the full ensemble and echoed pianissimo by more intimate groupings. There are beautiful floating lines exchanged by the solo violin and oboe.

The third and last movement returns to the initial instrumentation. The theme in G minor is powerfully stated with unisons quickly and shockingly exchanging with full harmonic answers, and then contrasted with very moving piano and pianissimo bridges of suspended seventh chords. This is followed by a passage in which bassoons in thirds are interestingly exchanged with violins in thirds. The movement ends with a recapitulation of the dynamic subject.