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HWV301 and all that: the history of Handel's 'oboe concertos'

Author(s): DONALD BURROWS


Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 152, No. 1914 (SPRING 2011), pp. 3-6
Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23039951
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DONALD BURROWS

HWV301 and all that: the history of H


'oboe concertos'

ihe letter from David Humphreys (MT, Winter 2010, p.3) surveys
territory that is familiar to those of us that have had to return from
_1_ time to time to the preparation of work-lists for the compositions of
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 HWV287
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 Handelgesellschaft 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'
HWV318, 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 recently been published by ]. Schuberth, Leipzig, in 1863
64. The title page to that edition described the work as 'Concert fur Oboe
[...] im Jahre 1703 in Hamburg componirt von G. F. Handel', and a footnote
to the first music page asserted that 'Diese Partitur ist genau nach dem
Manuscripte gestochen'. Unfortunately the source 'Manuscripte' 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 prt-Almira music, all kinds of things might
be passed off as an 'early work' of his: was this one in fact a mid-i9th
century 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

THE MUSICAL TIMES Spring 2011 3

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4 HIVVjoi and all that: the history of Handel's 'oboe concertos'

Handel, and with the solo instrument designated for flute or oboe.' (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 Handel-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 'HWV287' 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.2
There is no doubt about the Handelian authenticity of the musical content
in HWV302a: the concerto welds together two of the two-movement
sonatas that had formed the overtures to the Cannons anthems from

171718, 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 HWV302a as found in Select Harmony
was the result of any initiative from the composer, received any approval
from him, or was produced entirely without his knowledge. This is not
necessarily a situation that calls for publisher-bashing, however. While the
publishing house of Walsh had put out a number of Handel publications
around 173235 whose contents indicate sharp practice if not actual piracy,
it seems clear that during the years following the death of Walsh senior
Handel came to a positive arrangement with Walsh junior. During 173840
the result was not only the Organ Concertos op.4, the Trio Sonatas op.5,
the Concerti Grossi op.6 and the full score of Alexander's feast, but also the
1. Gerhard Poppe: 'Eine second Publication Privilege, dated 31 October 1739. In contrast to the 1720
bisher unbekannte Quelle
Privilege, which had named Handel himself as having the rights to the 'sole
zum Oboenkonzert g-moll
HWV 287', in Handel Printing and Publishing' of his works, the formula in 1739 was that he had
Jahrbuch 39. Jg. (1993), 'authorised and appointed' John Walsh as his publisher. By 31 October he
pp.22535- This source
is now in the University had just completed the drafts of the 12 concertos for op.6.
Library at Rostock, but it The op.6 set of Concerti Grossi, 'Publish'd by the Author' in April 1740
apparently originated at
but printed and sold by Walsh, formed a special publication project and also
Stuttgart, from a copyist who
was active around 1720. a valediction, because thereafter Handel seems to have lost interest rather
2. HWV302b is a later abruptly in the publication of his instrumental works: only the 'Second Set'
orchestral movement with
of Organ Concertos followed, published in November 1740, and that set
French horns, which reworks
the opening music from
included only two new original works out of the six. Perhaps Walsh then
HWV302a. asked Handel, 'do you have anything else?', perhaps he didn't, but the form

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of HWV302a as published cannot be summarily dismissed as undoubtedly
lacking Handel's authority. There would be comparable doubts about the
form of the Concerto Grosso op.3 no.5, which is similarly substantially a
compilation from Cannons music, were it not for an independent manuscript
copy in the Malmesbury Collection.3 Select Harmony in December 1740 was
not a single-composer publication but a mixed anthology of agreeable works,
presumably aimed at the British music club market: even so, the potential
sales must have been relatively small, the income insubstantial in relation
to the cost of the engraving, and the technical demands of the 'Alexander's
Feast Concerto' would have been beyond the resources of many performing
groups. The trouble with HWV302a is not that it is musically unsatisfactory,
but that it cannot bear the weight of a description in terms of an 'oboe
concerto', understood as a work conceived for soloist and accompaniment:
in the Cannons pieces from which this concerto was derived, the oboe was
part of the ensemble, a semi-independent contributor to the overall texture.
To be fair, Select Harmony did not entitle the work an 'Oboe Concerto', and
HWV302a fulfilled that description only insofar as it included a separate
oboe part, distinct from the violin parts. Similarly, Handel's op.3 Concerti
Grossi were sometimes referred to informally as 'oboe concertos' for the
same reason perhaps in a cautionary manner, since the description on
the title page of those concertos had suggested erroneously that the works
were for strings alone. Walsh used formulaic title pages. The description 'in
Seven Parts' for Select Harmony was at odds with the contents of the Fourth
Collection: you needed nine parts for the 'Alexander's Feast Concerto', five
parts for HWV302a and HWV301.
H WV301 was also not described as an 'oboe concerto' in Select Harmony,
but comes closer to that designation as now understood. David Humphreys's
description and reservations echo what many of us have felt when examining
the score, and indeed when hearing the work in performance; Baselt treated
the matter very cautiously in the entry for the HWV catalogue. It is very
likely that this concerto will be the subject of discussion in the review of
the repertory of 'Die Handel zugeschreibenen Kompositionen' by Hans
Joachim Marx and Steffen Voss, which will reach the orchestral works in vol.
3. In a volume of 'Sonatas', xiv of the Gottinger Handel-Beitrage (2012). For the moment, it must remain
Hampshire Record Office
9M73/G738. This item was in the category of 'authenticity uncertain', and may continue to occupy that
copied by John Christopher position until there is a positive alternative attribution to another composer.
Smith the younger in the
1720s.
What will not do is to treat HWV301 (or the equally doubtful Trio Sonatas
HWV38085) as evidence in support of the anecdote of equally uncertain
4. Charles Burney: An
Account of the Musical authenticity, that Handel was reported as saying of his early works that
Performances [...] in 'I used to write like the D1 in those days, but chiefly for the hautbois,
Commemoration of Handel
(London, 1785), 'Sketch of which was my favourite instrument'.4 Nevertheless, HWV301 remains an
the Life of Handel', p.3. interesting enough work to maintain a place in the repertory of performers,

THE MUSICAL TIMES Spring 2011 5

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6 HIVVjoz and all that: the history of Handel's 'oboe concertos'

and the question of its authorship remains intriguing. In December 1740


Handel's relationship with the Walsh publishing house was very different
from that in 173334, when a spurious concerto had somehow infiltrated the
first (?proof) copies of the op.3 concertos, which would make it all the more
curious if Handel's name was attached to the publication of HWV301.
However, there was no direct attribution to Handel in Select Harmony.
In typical fashion for the period, composers were named only on the
principal Violin I parts, as follows: Concerto I Handel; Concerto II [no
name]; Concerto III [no name]; Concerto IV Veracini; Concerto V Tartini;
5.1 thank Martin Holmes
for making the set of parts Concerto VI [no name].5 Players may have inferred that Concertos II and
available to me at short
III (HWV301 and 302a) were by Handel, as Chrysander seems to have
notice during the current
renovations to the Bodleian done, but Walsh left the matter ambiguous. In the case of HWV301 the
Library, Oxford. wrong conclusion may have been drawn for 250 years.

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