Handel’s harpsichord suites, the definitive edition, 1736, 1733


A splendid copy with a female provenance of Handel’s keyboard masterpieces.

Please do get in touch if you would like to purchase this or would like more information:  roger@rogergaskell.com.
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HANDEL, George Frideric (1685–1759)

Suites de pieces pour le clavecin. Composées par G. F. Handel [First] – Second volume .

London: printed and sold by John Walsh musick printer & instrument maker to his majesty at the Harp and Hoboy in Catherine Street in the Strand. Where may be had all the opera’s & instrumental musick of the above author. No. 490., c. 1736 and 1733.

Oblong folio, two volumes bound as one, engraved throughout. I: title, verso blank, and pp. [1] 94 [1], first and last pages blank;  II: title, verso blank, and pp. [1] 2–83 [1], first and last pages blank.  The same titleplate is used for both volumes, with the words ‘Second volume’ blocked out in printing for the first volume.

Condition: 230 x 315mm. Titlepage and last blank page of Vol. I dust-soiled, but all other pages clean and fresh; marginal wormholes and tracks at the beginning of the volume outside the platemarks, restored with tissue on the first 4 leaves; small round wormholes and tracks towards the end of the volume within the platemarks but not affecting the musical notation. 

Binding: Contemporary reversed calf with blind roll-tooled panels, red morocco gilt lettered label on upper board, MS spine lettering, red sprinkled page edges. Light stains on upper board but otherwise in fine condition. 

Provenance: Grisel Hamilton, eighteenth-century signature on front pastedown; fingering and trills marked on several pieces, mostly in pencil but a few in ink. 

First uniform edition of both volumes comprising the fourth London edition of Vol. I (first 1720) and the first edition of Volume II, printed from plates prepared for Cluer in 1727 but unpublished. Smith 6 and 5. References. Smith, Suites de pieces, 6 and 5.

An attractive copy of the standard edition of Handel’s harpsichord suites. Volume I contains the ‘Eight Great Suites,’ HWV426–433 which probably took their final form while Handel was working for the Duke of Chandos at Cannons (1717–1719) but derive from earlier sketches. Volume II contains the D minor suite HWV436 written after 1720, works which had appeared earlier in the so called piracy of 1719–20 (see below), a G major suite of questionable authorship HWV441, and the Chaconne in G HWV442/2 which is probably an early work.

The publishing history of the suites is complex and still not entirely clear. Volume I was published under Handel’s direct supervision in 1720 and printed by John Cluer – although he had worked with Walsh previously. The plates were revised, in Smith’s analysis, c. 1721–22 and again c. 1725–27, but copies inevitably vary in their make up. Some were sold by Walsh with a pasted on imprint before he produced his own edition – the present edition –  in 1736 with new plates, thus fixing the text in the final form as left by the composer.

When Handel published his edition of volume I in 1720 he claimed ‘I have been obliged to publish Some of the following lessons because Surrepticious and incorrect copies of them had got abroad’. This refers to the Pieces à un & deux clavecins composées par Mr. Hendle with the imprint of Jeanne Roger in Amsterdam. However Donald Burrows has pointed out that the music engraving is in the current London style, different from Roger’s and the names of the movements are characteristically English. Burrows therefore suggests that ‘the titlepage could just be genuine’ and the publication a collaborative enterprise between Roger and a London publisher, possibly even Walsh. But this does not explain why Handel himself disowned it and only included some of the pieces in his Volume I, promising to publish more if this volume received a favourable reception. 

The material not used by Handel appears, with other works, in volume II. The plates were, according to Smith, presumably prepared for Cluer, but no copies exist with his imprint and the volume was probably not offered for sale or was withdrawn from publication. These plates were then re-arranged by Walsh for the 1733 edition. The two volumes bound together here comprise the standard edition of these great works and the basis for the numerous subsequent editions. 

This copy is very lightly marked up with fingering and ornaments, but only in certain movements, suggesting that the performer – or her teacher – chose these movements to study, rather than taking the suites as wholes. The dust-soiling of the outer pages of Vol. I suggest that this part was not bound immediately. The performance marks are similar in the two volumes and were most likely made after the volume was bound.

The owner of the volume, Grisel Hamilton, could be the daughter of Charles Hamilton, Viscount Binning who married Philip, 2nd Earl Stanhope in 1745, but the binding may be later than this. The sweet pea ‘Lady Grisel Hamilton’ (1895) is probably named for a later Grisel Hamilton.

Donald Burrows, ‘John Walsh and his Handel Edititions’ in Myers, Harris and Mandelbrote, eds, Music and the Book Trade, (2008) 69–104.