The Handel Institute

The GFH Journal -- Issue 1

Graham Cummings

Handel’s Organ Concertos (HWV 290-93) and Operatic Rivalry


Handel’s six organ concertos, published by John Walsh as the composer’s Op.4, are, through frequent live performances and recordings, among the most familiar of his instrumental works. However, one central question regarding HWV 290-93 in particular has not yet received a satisfactory answer: why did Handel, in the middle of a busy theatre season (1734-5), devoted to his own Italian operas and English oratorios, decide to compose and perform organ concertos? This central question prompts several linked ones: what were the circumstances of the 1734-5 theatre season that compelled Handel to produce this new genre of composition? Were these concertos a product of the intense rivalry that existed between London’s two Italian opera companies, Handel’s at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden and the so-called ‘Opera of the Nobility’ at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket? Did the Covent Garden theatre acquire a new ‘concerto organ’ in 1735? These four linked questions form the focus of this article.

Full article (PDF format)


Dr. Graham Cummings is University Organist and Principal Lecturer in the Department of Music, University Of Huddersfield. He has published on Handel and Opera in Music & Letters, Early Music, and the Händel Jahrbuch. He is currently editing the opera Poro, Rè dell’ Indie for the Hallische Händel Ausgabe, and has acted as music text consultant for performances of this opera at the festivals in Halle (1998), Göttingen (2006), and the London Handel Festival (2007).


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