In 1734 the London publisher John Walsh issued six Concerti Grossi […] Da G. F. Handel. Opera Terza., the first of this series being the concerto grosso in B flat major, op. 3, no. 1, HWV 312. Apparently Handel was not directly involved in the printing process, for the first edition contained as no. 4 a concerto that was probably composed by Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762), and there were numerous engraving errors and faulty transcriptions of keyboard works. A large part of this music goes back to orchestral pieces that Handel had written as introductory or transitional music for various vocal works. Only for the first of the six concerti grossi contained in op. 3 so far no significant motivic-thematic similarities with other works by Handel could be traced. The sequence of movements is unusual as well – an Allegro in B flat major is followed by a Largo in g minor and a surprisingly brief Allegro also in g minor; neither Walsh nor his assistants are responsible for this, however, as in the form published here HWV 312 is transmitted already in the copy of the Malmesbury collection, which was assembled in the years 1718–1727, and in a score probably from the year 1724, which is now kept at the Staatsbibliothek Hamburg.
The “authenticity of the transmitted form” according to Bernd Baselt is further confirmed by “the characteristic scoring of the inner parts for Va. I and II, which is not taken up in any of the other concertos”. Yet it is precisely this division of the violas which heightens our mistrust in this transmission, for the orchestras for which Handel composed usually contained numerous violins but only few violas. Hence divided violas rarely occur in his oeuvre.
Contrary to the version of the concerto hitherto known (HWV 312), in the Dresden version edited here for the first time (HWV 312a) the distribution of the high and middle strings into violins and violas actually complies with Handel’s usual practice. Here the violas are never divided, and instead of V. I–II in HWV 312 (the solo violin being integrated in V. I), in HWV 312a there are parts for a concertato violin and for V. I–III. As a consequence, in HWV 312a the string parts are distributed differently from those in HWV 312 throughout: In most cases what is V. I in 312a is assigned the music of V. II, and V. II of 312a is given the music of Va. I in 312. The Va. of 312a corresponds with Va. II of 312, and in 312a the text of V. III is mostly the same as that of V. I tutti. The strange and ineffectual pausing of the remaining V. I during all the solo passages with orchestral accompaniment played by V. I solo in HWV 312 is juxtaposed in HWV 312a by the plausible and efficient use of all the instruments involved. Contrary to the situation in the violins and violas, in those parts of HWV 312a where the musical substance corresponds with that of HWV 312 the use of the basses differs only marginally and that of the recorders and oboes hardly at all.
Handel’s concerto grosso in B flat major is transmitted in two clearly distinct versions, the English one and that from Dresden. Many aspects of HWV 312a are musically more convincing than HWV 312, and this version therefore is a welcome addition to the performing repertoire.
(Stephan Blaut and Michael Pacholke, translation by Stephanie Wollny)