Friday, July 7, 2017

July 17, 1717: Handel's Water Music first performed

Last updated August 26, 2018.

Water Music Suites Nos. 1-3 for orchestra, HWV 348-350

George Friedrich Händel (composer)

Composed: 1717

First Performed: 7/17/1717

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Genre: classical > baroque


Suite No. 1: 1) Overture in F major 2) Adagio e staccato in D minor 3) Allegro in F major 4) Andante espressivo in D minor 5) Presto in F major 6) Air. Presto in F major 7) Minuet in F major 8) Bourée. Presto in F major 9) Hornpipe in F major 10) Allegro moderato 11)

Suite No. 2: 1) Allegro in D major 2) Alla Hornpipe in D major 3) Minuet in D major 4) Lentement in D major 5) Bourée in D major

Suite No. 3: 1) Sarabande] in G major 2) Rigaudon [Presto] in G major 3) [Rigaudon II] in G minor 4) Minuet [I] in G minor 5) [Minuet II] in G minor 6) [Gigue I] in G minor 7) [Gigue II] in G major

Average Length: 49:50


“Early in his career Handel left Germany, where he resented the limitations of his role. He left for for England, where he hoped that the more cosmopolitan musical life of the capital, subject to market forces led by fashion and popular taste, rather than princely dictate, would offer a more lucrative reception for his stage works. Despite his limited mastery of the English language, Handel made a triumphant entrée into London society. His operas were immensely successful there for a time, and it was for London that Handel composed his two most universally popular orchestral works, the Music for the Royal Fireworks, and the three Water Music suites” (Jameson).

“Both of these were intended for outdoor performance, and were scored for ensembles with complements of woodwinds and brasses that could be heard to good advantage in open air. Moreover, each drew in some measure upon material Handel had already composed. By the time Handel composed his Water Music in 1717, he had been able to fully evaluate the musical trends of his adopted home. He brought to what might at first seem like a rather nondescript assemblage of nautical folk melodies, songs, and country dances what Professor H.C. Robbins Landon has described as ‘far more than the usual international flair; a remarkable fusion of solid German upbringing, Italian training and a thorough acquaintance with French tastes.’ Each piece is a miniature gem with a finely sculpted expressive point, drawing, as Landon indicates, upon the various suite components and types of orchestral writing that Handel had mastered” (Jameson). “The arrangement of the music into three suites may have been intended by Handel originally; with three keys used in the work (F, D, and G), the grouping is natural. Conductors have also ordered the pieces in other ways” (Jameson).

“English monarch King George I held a society river party, probably a sort of eighteenth century equivalent of the ‘photo op,’ on the Thames on July 17, 1717. For this event Handel composed a collection of short, festive pieces, known collectively as the Water Music since the publication soon afterward of a group of them as ‘The Celebrated Water-Musick.’ The original order and grouping of the pieces is not known; not all employ the supernumerary trumpets, horns, oboes, and drums suited particularly to outdoor festive events, and it seems likely that the Suite in G (which employs the softer tones of flutes and strings) was reserved for performance at the ‘choice supper’ reported by the London Daily Courant, held ‘at Lord Ranelagh’s villa at Chelsea, where there was another fine Consort of Musick, which lasted until two (am).’ Of the river-festivities earlier that day, the same newspaper also recorded that ‘many barges with Persons of Quality attended, and so great a number of boats that the whole river in a manner was cover’d; a City Company’s barge was employ’d for all the musick, wherein were fifty instruments of all sorts, who play’d all the way from Lambeth...the finest of Symphonies compos'd express for this Occasion, by Mr. Hendel; which his Majesty liked so well, that he caus'd it to be plaid three times in going and again in the returning’” (Jameson).

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