The Fitzwilliam Handel Autograph Manuscripts

In association with the Cambridge Early Music’s Handel Festival (2nd and 3rd October) the Fitzwilliam Museum has mounted a special exhibition selected from the autograph manuscripts of some of the music performed. Four of the volumes of autographs are on display in Gallery III of the Museum for the next two weeks. Two of them are of violin music that was never published in Handel’s lifetime, and which survives only in these manuscripts.

George Frideric Handel, by Thomas Hudson (1749).

George Frideric Handel, by Thomas Hudson (1749).
Public domain

When Handel died in 1759 he bequeathed all his manuscripts to his amanuensis John Christopher Smith. These comprised a vast collection of composing scores, mostly of operas and oratorios, dating back to his arrival in England, and including at least some of the music he had written in Italy. Smith gave these composing scores to the King in about 1763 and are now in the British Library. However a pile of miscellaneous pages of music – a total of 553 leaves – never got into the Royal Library. Some time between 1763 and 1799 (or possibly in that year) they were acquired by Lord Fitzwilliam. Ninety percent are in Handel’s autograph, and include fragmentary sketches and compositional exercises, complete sonatas and concertos and single movements of instrumental music, arias and sections removed from or added to operas or oratorios, etc., etc.

By 1799 they had been bound into six fat volumes, and Fitzwilliam signed the first page of each volume. No hand list or catalogue of the contents of these volumes survives.

Then in about 1890 A.H. Mann, the organist at King’s and a noted musical antiquarian, was allowed to have the volumes disbound, rearranged in a rational order, and rebound as separate leaves in fourteen magnificently bound volumes. In the process he prepared a complete catalogue that was published in 1893. For the better preservation of the manuscripts they were yet again rebound in the 1980’s. In 1994 a new catalogue of their contents was published by Donald Burrows, and recently the information there has been included in the online catalogue, available through the University Library.

The three violin sonatas are contained in one volume, and since we can show only one opening in the manuscript, we have chosen the end of the Sonata in G minor, HWV 364a, and the beginning of the Sonata in D minor, HWV 359a. The latter is marked “Sonata 2”, indicating that they were thought of as a pair. The other Sonata in A major, HWV 361, appears on pages 13-19 of the same manuscript is written on the same type of paper, possibly even the same batch. It is paper used by Handel in the years around 1726.

Handel wrote the Allegro in G major for solo violin, HWV 407, on empty staves of a discarded fold (of 4 pages) from a 2nd violin part for the opera Serse (first performed on 15th April 1738). The copyist rejected or abandoned copying in the middle of the “Larghetto” sinfonia that follows the famous aria Ombra mai fu which opens the opera. On the next page Handel wrote a piece for musical clock which he carefully dated “25th Agosto 1738”.

(Honorary Keeper of Music, Fitzwilliam Museum)

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One Response to The Fitzwilliam Handel Autograph Manuscripts

  1. Pingback: Flowers and Fans and Friends | Professor Hedgehog's Journal

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