GEORGE hANDEL Largo: Ombra Mai Fu
Originally composed for a string ensemble, Bridget Mermikides has sprinkled her magic over this aria from Handel’s Serse, and arranged it for us in drop D.
Bridget Mermikides arranges and transcribes one of the Austrian master’s deepest and most captivating pieces for solo classical guitar.
Among all composers of Western Art Music, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) is among the most productive and well-respected. His output over his working life is almost unbelievable, and it’s hard to fathom how one human could produce 42 operas, 29 oratorios, over 120 cantatas, 84 hymns, 56 concertos, 23 concerti grossi and hundreds of other orchestral works, songs and instrumental pieces.
Handel (a German who lived most of his life in London) was successful during his lifetime, and celebrated not only by the public, but by other great composers. These include his contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach who claimed that Handel “understood affect better than any of us”, and none other than Beethoven who dubbed him the “greatest composer who ever lived” and “the master of us all”. Given that Bach and Beethoven are cited in the top three composers of all time, this is a respect not easily won.
Now over 250 years since his death, his music is recorded and performed with unabated enthusiasm. Of these, the Messiah (and its Hallelujah chorus) is one of the most celebrated choral works of all time and his Water Music, and Music For The Royal Fireworks are inextricably linked with British culture. In this instalment, I’ve selected one of his (many) beautiful arias to arrange for solo guitar.
This is the opening aria of his 1738 opera Serse. This was originally orchestrated for a string ensemble with the melody in F Major sung by a castrato (now that’s dedication to your job). Today, it is usually arranged (mercifully) for counter-tenor or mezzosoprano. I’ve transposed the melody down to D Major, in drop D tuning and it, in fact, fits quite idiomatically on the guitar in this key with a pleasing resonance. The lyrics – sung by a Persian king – are admiring the shade of a plane tree. So the appropriate tempo is slow and graceful (Largo means slow and stately), however, it will take some work to keep the chords even and fluid, and the melody legato and flowing. If you think of the accompaniment as strings, and the melody sung above it will help you balance and voice them appropriately. The tab captions will help with the technical details, and it may also be worth listening to relevant recordings to capture the spirit.
JS BACH CLAIMED THAT HANDEL ‘UNDERSTOOD AFFECT BETTER THAN ANY OF US’, AND BEETHOVEN DUBBED HANDEL ‘THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME’
Handel: hailed a genius by fellow genius composers