Concerto Grosso No.3

George Frideric Handel

Concerto Grosso No.3 in E minor

HWV321, Op. 6/3

About this work

This work is one of a series of twelve dashing and elegant concerti grossi in which Handel explores kaleidoscopically shifting relationships among the instruments of a string orchestra. In consonance with the traditions of concerto grosso style he exploits the contrast between a small concertino (group of solo instruments) and a larger ripieno (orchestral complement). Throughout this cycle the concertino features two violins, a cello, and a chordal continuo instrument, and the ripieno comprises larger groups of violins and violas along with a continuo usually played by cellos, string basses, and one or several chordal instruments.

The first two movements of this concerto are plaintive in tone yet elegant and dignified in carriage. The opening Larghetto (in which the concertino steps out as a unit) proceeds in a stately sarabande rhythm, and the subsequent Andante (which features no concertino passages) is a sober double fugue.

The Allegro that follows is less melancholy than the preceeding two movements yet still somewhat concerned. It begins unisonally and proceeds through some dignified bustling that features antiphony between the ripieno violins and the full ensemble. There are several concertino passages in which the violins step forward as individuals over light ripieno accompaniments.

The major-mode polonaise (marked Andante for tempo) that follows is an elegant outing that is unaware of the concerns of the preceeding movements. It proceeds in a happy, contented frame of mind, exuding a pastoral feel aided by some droning bass lines. The concertino instruments speak individually and colletively--on several occasions the solo violins answer each other over an active accompaniment from the concertino's continuo.

The concluding Allegro, ma non troppo is quite reflective but not melancholy. It returns to the minor mode, this time dancing in 6/8. The concertino steps out as a group in the solo passages.