Adagio Lost and Adagio Regained:
A Study of the Lost Art of Improvising in the Adagio Genre, with Emphasis on Handel’s Organ Concertos

HyeHyun Sung

Tuesday, June 21, 10 AM
Meeting Room 337.A-B

In eight of his organ concertos, Handel marked ten adagio sections “ad libitum.” This paper empowers modern organists to improvise these adagio ad libitum sections in a historically informed way.

Adagio in the Baroque era was not so much a tempo marking as an improvisational genre. In Handel’s time, concertgoers esteemed a well-improvised adagio as entertainment par excellence. A soloist’s adagio improvisations allowed a concertgoer to attend multiple performances of the same work. The concertgoer witnessed—with each new adagio improvisation—the inexhaustible imaginations of superior performers such as Corelli, Quantz, Telemann, and Handel.These Baroque improvisers’ process used figured bass, diminution, and embellishment. Handel, in particular, used this process in his new genre, the organ concerto, as he pioneered the organist’s soloistic role amid the orchestra.

These Baroque composers’ general compositional method—including Handel’s own specific approach—can inform the improvisations of modern organists. The author reduces one of Handel’s fully-realized slow movements to its essence. She uses the compositional process thereby exposed to then complete an unrealized movement. Modern organists may also create new improvisations that are congruous with Handel’s own style throughout his organ concertos. Today’s organist, thus, can reclaim the Baroque art of adagio improvisation.

The 2014 American Guild of Organists’ National Young Artists Competition in Organ Playing (NYACOP) second-prize winner, HyeHyun Sung is a DMA candidate at the University of Houston. A recipient of the University of Houston’s Presidential Fellowship, Ms. Sung studies with Robert Bates and Matthew Dirst. She has also studied with Stefan Engels at Westminster Choir College and with Martin Jean at Yale University. She received two Artistic Diplomas, Konzertexamen and Solistenklasse, with distinction from Hochschule für Musik Saar in Saarbrücken, Germany. Currently living in Houston, Ms. Sung is the Director of Music at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.