University of Cambridge Museums

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Exploring Handel’s autograph scores at the Fitzwilliam Museum

For the fourth year running we are working with the Britten Sinfonia Academy (BSA) who have just held a three day course at the Fitzwilliam Museum in late November and early December.  The focus for the course has been:

  • to explore the Museum’s unique collection of autographed scores by Handel, with Handel and early music specialist Dr Christopher Suckling
  • to develop their period playing techniques with early music performance specialists Rachel Byrt (viola) and Dr Christopher Suckling (cello)
  • to work with composer Kenneth Hesketh to develop their own miniatures from a series of unpublished fragments in the collection.

Britten Sinfonia Academy are young, talented, secondary school age players from the East of England who work throughout the year with members of the Orchestra and focus on aspects that make Britten Sinfonia unique, such as playing without a conductor and mixing up genres.

This film shows the BSA students looking at autograph musical scores by both Handel and Bach, in the Founder’s Library at the Fitzwilliam Museum:

The students were buzzing as they returned from the Founder’s Library and overhead comments included: “There was a Bach manuscript that made us cry.” “I’m hyperventilating!”

photo of Students in Gallery 3On Sunday 6 December the members of the BSA gave a performance in Gallery 3 of the musical discovery they had enjoyed at the Fitzwilliam. The programme featured music by Handel which the students performed from photographs of the original scores, and was introduced by Dr Christopher Suckling. Also included were several incidental one minute works, all composed by different members of BSA in response to fragments of the music and text from the collection.

The official premiere of Kenneth Hesketh’s piece will be at the Britten Sinfonia Academy’s At Lunch concerts in July 2016, which feature the music the Academy has worked on through the year.

Caricature of G.F. Handel: "The Charming Brute" by Joseph Goupy, draughtsman; British artist, c.1680-1770 © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Kenneth’s score includes a movement entitled The Charming Brute, a reference to a caricature picture of Handel from the Fitzwilliam collection.

(Right) Caricature of G.F. Handel: “The Charming Brute” by Joseph Goupy, draughtsman; British artist, c.1680-1770 © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.





Morgan Overton (Clarinet, Britten Sinfonia Academy 2015-16) summed up the experience in a BSA blog which can be read in full here:  This quotation demonstrates what the visit to the Fitzwilliam music collection meant to him:

“However, what was remarkable to see, even on the performance parts, was how there was no extra marking, except those Handel or his copyists had put on the page that were originally on the score. In other words, the musicians performing knew every piece of articulation, every phrase length and every bit of dynamic shaping without any marking of it on the scores. However, beside the more musicological aspect of viewing the manuscripts, it was just extraordinary to be so close to such rare old documents – it was overwhelming, and the excitement doubled when we also were able to view handwritten manuscripts of Bach. It was truly an extraordinary experience, and one none of us in the orchestra will forget for a very long time.”

Rachel Sinfield, Head of Communications and Engagement, The Fitzwilliam Museum

One comment on “Exploring Handel’s autograph scores at the Fitzwilliam Museum

  1. Pingback: Exploring Handel’s autograph scores at the Fitzwilliam Museum | JAZZ IZZIN

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