Handel's Flood Of Melodies: 'Water Music'

Air Date: 
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel

In 1717, with England's King George suffering somewhat in the polls, his political advisors suggested that he do something big to get the people behind him. So they came up with the idea of a summer boating party on the Thames.

As the king's court composer, George Frideric Handel was commissioned to write music for this spectacle. The king and his favorites listened from the royal barge as an ensemble of 50 musicians played from another, while boats "beyond counting" crowded alongside.

Though the original scores have been lost, it's clear from the instrumentation and keys that Handel composed the Water Music in three suites: a large one in F with 10 movements, featuring two horns; one in D with five movements (among them the celebrated "Alla Hornpipe"); and one in G with seven movements. While the suites in F and D are clearly open-air music, meant to be played on the barge, the G major grouping was intended perhaps to accompany the king's meal down the river at Chelsea.

Well suited to its purpose, the Water Music is memorably tuneful and makes fashionable use of the dance forms typically found in the Baroque suite. In his resourceful scoring, designed to keep the royal ear from tiring, Handel combines festivity and finesse in perfect measure. more...

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