Celestial Music Interpreted by a Jazz Pianist

Händel - music descended from heaven. © Charles Thibo
Händel – music descended from heaven. © Charles Thibo

Händel is everywhere. At least in the German town of Halle/Saale, just like Mozart in Salzburg. I lived for many years in Halle, and for a long time, I kept my distance to that Baroque composer. Being constantly exposed to his “Feuerwerksmusik” (Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351) and his “Wassermusik” (Water Music, HWV 348–350), I ended up hating his music.

Händel versus Bach

Today I have changed my mind. Georg Friedrich Händel is brilliant. And Keith Jarrett’s interpretation of some of his Suites for Keyboard is brilliant-brilliant. Jazz meets classical music, doesn’t that sound promising on Christmas day? It’s light, it’s melodious, it’s music that descended from heaven and has stayed with us now for more than 300 years. And it will stay on, since Händel is the only true rival to Bach. Compared to Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”, Händel’s suites are less elaborate, less “mathematical” if you like and more readily accessible to the ear.

Händel published the suites between 1720 and 1733 in two volumes and since the piano had not been invented yet, he wrote them for the harpsichord. It is not quite clear, when exactly he wrote them and to what purpose. Had they been commissioned by one of his respective patrons? Or did he use them as didactic material while teaching students? In the foreword he explained that he was forced to publish these works as many unauthorized copies or fakes were being circulated. Intellectual property was as much an issue in the 18th century as it is today!

From Germany to England

Though Händel was born in Halle/Saale in 1685 and spent his youth there, he lived for most of his life in Great Britain. He was at the service of the British Crown and of Earl of Carnarvon, the latter Duke of Chandos. Between 1707 and 1710 he travelled through Italy where he met the Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli as we have seen in a previous post. He soon made himself a new as a composer of operas in the Italian style. Actually, it was Händel who introduced the British audience to this type of music.

I truly hope you will enjoy this and again, a Merry Christmas to you, if you happen to be a Christian, and a life in peace and full of stimulating music to you if you are not.

The suites HWV 426, 427, 427, 429, 433, 440, 447 and 452 performed by Keith Jarrett have been published by the label ECM. The complete set of suites has been recorded by A. Gavrilov and S. Richter (Volume 1)/(Volume 2) with the label EMI.

© Charles Thibo

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8 thoughts on “Celestial Music Interpreted by a Jazz Pianist”

  1. … and in that article, as for serious Bach: I just split my sides listening to the Coffee Cantata for the first time. I think all those Baroque and Classical guys had a great sense of humour bubbling under their creativity. Cheers! 🙂

  2. Thanks for this info. I’ve only listened to a couple so far, but am looking forwrd to more. They’re absolutely beautiful – when played on a piano. (Ok, I’ve revealed my secret dislike of harpsichord). Your post prompted me to look up their life dates for comparison; you might be interested in this curious tidbit about their lives: http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1186.htm Cheers! 🙂

        1. I finally managed to open the link! That was a curious, interesting and funny (well, sort of) piece. I am always surprised by people’s research subjects. As for Bach not meeting Händel: If they haven’t met, they knew of each other through their works and through the news. Bach mentions Händel in his correspondence favorably and reflected the question whether they were competitors. Bach decided they were not. Smart man! I found another interesting article online: https://bachtrack.com/nov-2013-baroque-bach-handel

          1. Thanks – very informative article; interesting reflections on the relationship of music to life. No need to compare these two guys though – each is amazing. 🙂

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