Handel's 1720 Eight Great Suites for keyboard, despite being comparatively neglected in his output, have received many fine and diverse recordings over the years. On piano, Sviatoslav Richter's late-seventies reading of these eclectic and colorful works has long been a favorite...
It is perhaps a sad fact that Handel is now best known for his Water Music and Firework Music. However, previous generations have lauded him for his collection of oratorios and anthems and his contemporaries praised him for his considerable catalogue of operas. Unfortunately his keyboard works hold only a minor place in the Handelian canon. They are rarely performed and are poorly represented in the recording studio. Most of these keyboard works were composed in the composer’s younger days (1710 -1720). It must be remembered that these Suites were extremely popular in the composer’s lifetime even if their stock has fallen since. The program notes quote the following passage from the historian John Mainwaring: "His [Handel’s] gift of composing for a single instrument requires no better evidence than his pieces for the keyboard. The[y] are held in highest honor…’
It is sometimes forgotten that Handel was regarded in his day as being a great virtuoso keyboard player. He had a penchant for improvisation that gained him a great reputation. A large amount of his music for keyboard is believed to have been lost – or was played only once as an extemporization in front of a privileged audience and then forgotten.
Shortly after Handel had settled in London he issued the Eight Suites in 1720 although these pieces appear to have been written over the previous decade. Perhaps with regard to then current fashion, the title page was in French – Suites de Pièces pour le Clavecin, Premier Volume.