George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was a practical composer. He believed in recycling: if he once wrote a rather good piece, he used it again elsewhere. Of the compositions entitled Concerti Grossi, Opus 3 (1734), only the first was originally conceived as a concerto grosso. The other five are compilations of movements written years before, with a few new movements added. Opus 3, therefore, could be described as an environmentally friendly compilation of 60% recycled and 40% new material. The publication contains a wonderful variety of texture and colour, and is full of contrasting emotions. The individual concertos feature different instrumentations – pairs of oboes, recorders, cellos, violins and bassoons all make an appearance, as well as solo violin, oboe, flute and organ.
The first concerto is the only one in the set that was newly composed – it contains no material reworked from earlier compositions. It is the most typical concerto grosso, a term implying the alternation of small groups of instruments with the full orchestra. In each movement, two pairs of solo instruments contrast with the full string orchestra. In the opening Allegro, a pair of oboes alternates with solo oboe and solo violin; in the following Largo, two recorders make way for the violin and oboe again, and in the closing Allegro a pair of oboes trades places with a pair of bassoons.
The second concerto was probably written before 1720 for the opera orchestra in the Haymarket theatre in London. The lively rhythm of the opening movement (which Handel took from a version of his Brockes Passion of 1716) gives way to a lyrical Largo. A compact, contrapuntal Allegro follows, also borrowed from the Brockes Passion. Handel then added two new dance movements, a Menuet contrasting static harmonies with a flowing melody, and a Gavotte with virtuoso variations for the bass group and violins.