Caution: Handel Plagiarism

Frans_van_Mieris_(I)_-_The_Music_Lesson_-_WGA15633Now that I am getting more into historically informed performance on the violin, I have not only begun researching new repertoire to perform, but I am also re-visiting previous Baroque violin repertoire as a means of both getting acquainted with my new Baroque bow and learning the nuances of HIPP on the violin. Of course, now engrossed in reading treatises on Baroque violin performance and also having learned the “building blocks” of the HIPP style on recorder, I am quickly picking up on anachronistic bowings, fingerings, etc. that I have learned via my teachers or in the editions that I initially learned from. So now, I’m currently studying the “rules” for Baroque violin-playing such that I can make historically sound decisions when doing my own editing.

Anyway, one of the pieces I decided to re-visit not long after getting my Baroque bow was Handel’s 3rd Violin Sonata in F Major, which is the second piece in Suzuki Violin School Book 6. This was the last piece I had learned in Suzuki school. I completed the first and second movements under my Suzuki teacher, cleaning them up and then completing the rest of the sonata under the traditional teacher whose studio I transferred to. The piece is highly charming — so charming that it captivated me ever since. Hence, when getting acquainted with my Baroque bow, I naturally chose it as one of the familiar pieces for my bow acquaintance process. Also, since my schola director had asked me to play preludes during special occasions during Latin Mass since instruments are permissible on feast days and secular music permissible before Mass (but not during), I got the idea that this one would be a great piece for such a purpose in the future:

After proceeding to play the second movement at a Christmas Mass rehearsal at church with my schola director at the organ (and me using my Baroque bow only a week after I received it — how bold!), I decided that I would venture further and locate an urtext of it, as well as other Handel sonatas. After all, the Suzuki edition was laden with anachronistic bowings and markings, and although I was already ignoring them and inserting more historically appropriate markings, I felt that an urtext was absolutely necessary since the Suzuki edition may have been corrupted beyond my comprehension (e.g. altered notes, shortening the piece). Well, no sooner had I begun my Google search, I stumbled upon the following article containing a shocking premise: The sonata is NOT a work of Handel, as are three of the others found in the popular Schrimer edition and in the Suzuki books:

So the two Handel sonatas in Book 6 are not by Handel ….. I must admit I was in shock, yet in other respects I was not. I had heard about such plagiarism in other cases (e.g. Il Pastor Fido by “Vivaldi” — actually Chedaville), and I had always been leery of Schrimer editions, even before I had ventured into HIPP. My last violin teacher — who was not HIPP-friendly at all and totally against the way I interpreted Bach and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons — was a strong subscriber to them, and I — who had been exposed to urtexts under my previous teachers — was disgusted how they practically marred up the Baroque/Classical pieces that I had learned via urtext. So, whenever he pulled out the Schrimer editions, I would say that I had the piece at home and then convince my mom to go buy an urtext edition once we were at home …..

Anyway, after finding out the truth about the “Handel” sonata which I had come to so dearly love, I proceeded to email this link to my voice teacher — a musicologist who specializes in Baroque music and my continuo accompanist as well. Then, at my weekly voice lesson with him, I proceeded to speak about the issue with him, stating that such sonatas should not be played because they are not genuine Handel. Chuckling, my teacher provided a highly interesting perspective on the issue: Such “plagiarism” was actually acceptable practice during the Baroque era. People often attributed their works to famous composers, and famous composers themselves frequently took pieces from other composers’ pieces and incorporated them into their pieces. My teacher cited Bach and Handel as examples, continuing on that the practice was in no way considered “wrong” or “illegal” as it was today. Hence, as he concluded, musicians should not discard playing the apocryphal Handel sonatas since they are great pieces, nor should they continue to label them authentic Handel pieces. Instead, they should be designated as “attributed to Handel” or “Handel/(Insert genuine author’s name here).”

So there: A nice balance. I am going to get an urtext edition of genuine Handel violin sonatas as Dossi,_Dosso_-_Apollo_-_1524recommended in the link, yet it would be quite extreme (and a pity!) not to play such lovely music as the F Major “Handel” sonata I have grown to love. Even if it and the other apocryphal “Handel” sonatas are not genuine Handel, they are definitely still worth playing; they just have to be designated as my voice teacher recommended. No, I would never use the Schrimer edition or recommend it to others since it is so “polluted” between its botched/anachronistic editing and out-of-place continuo realization, yet I am happy that the urtext editions recommended in the link above contain the apocryphal “Handel” sonatas besides the master’s genuine sonatas so I can play them with historically correct editings and technique.

So yes, I shall go on playing the lovely “Handel” sonata I love, while keeping in mind its false (yet perfectly acceptable for the time) attributions and — of course — historically correct violin technique. And yes, I shall also be using my Baroque bow for the piece. After all, any piece written in the Baroque style — whether historical or modern, genuine or forgery — should be played with historically appropriate technique and equipment!

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