THE GÖTEBORG BAROQUE CLAVIORGANUM:
Did Handel’s Claviorganum really afford him
“A better command of the Performers”?
Magnus Kjellson (artistic director Göteborg Baroque), Mats Arvidsson, Munetaka Yokota, Joel Speerstra
In 1738, Charles Jennens, a close friend of George Frideric Handel and the librettist of several of his oratorios, wrote a letter to Lord Guernsey complaining that “Handel’s head was full of ‘maggots’ by which he meant crazy ideas” (Van Til 2007, 148). The first of these “maggots” documented in the letter was a bizarre version of a carillon with a keyboard that controlled anvil-striking hammers. Handel wanted to use it to invoke the madness of Saul. The third “maggot” was a Hallelujah in Saul that Jennens insisted should have gone at the end of Act One instead of as the Finale.
The middle maggot was an instrument that will be the central focus of Work Package 2: a new chamber organ that Jennens says is “so contriv’d that as [Handel] sits at it, he has a better command of his Performers than he used to have; and he is
highly delighted to think with what exactness his Oratorio will be performed by the help of this organ: so that for the future instead of beating time at his oratorios, he is to sit at the Organ all the time with his back to the Audience” (Van Til 2009, 148). According to the contemporary music writer Charles Burney, this organ could be placed at the back of the stage with the choir, but could be played from the front of the stage at the harpsichord. He described seeing the “long-movement” claviorganum in the picture shown here that was used at Handel’s memorial concert at Westminster Abbey. Claviorganums–the term for combination instruments with both strings and pipes–have appeared in many forms throughout keyboard history, but they all afford the player control over more than one keyboard instrument at the same time. Because they were always more expensive to build, there is no known serial production of any claviorganum by any instrument builder. They were all more or less unique experiments reflecting their own time. What makes Handel’s claviorganum unique and worthy of study in the context of this research project is his apparently active involvement in its design based on affordances he thought he needed to be a better conductor. An organ with a remote keyboard creates affordances for the continuo-playing conductor that hadn’t existed at any clavior- ganum before. “A long movement would have enabled the player–presumably Handel himself–to change from harpsichord to organ without moving from one instrument to another, and it would have enabled the organ to be placed at the back of the performing area, preventing it from blocking orchestral sight-lines and, most important, enabling it to be large enough to be heard clearly by the choir...Ctroeahtaive ‘Ka ebyebttoear rcdosmpmaagned5 of the Performers than he us’d to have’”(Holman 2012, 253). Handel’s instrument has been missing since 1802. The Göteborg “long-movement” claviorganum is still being built. What happens when the first mod- ern version starts being used in ensemble with Göteborg Baroque? How will things like musical leadership, continuo practice, control of rhythm and precision in ensemble be effected? How will the sound-balance affect the ensemble where the organ is up off the floor and closer to singers, while the harpsichord is closer to the players. Apart from Magnus Kjellson, and Göteborg Baroque, the GOArt organbuilder Munetaka Yokota will be active in design and voicing work and resources from Workpackage 5 will also be involved in the documentation of the development of this instrument.