Excess - Handel's Water Music

Well I have eaten to excess, drunk to excess and watched Frozen at least three times.  So you can imagine what my New Year's resolutions are going to be, suffice to say that January is going to be very dull.

George Frideric Handel 1685-1759

George Frideric Handel 1685-1759

I almost feel in need of a detox and so I think that Handel's Water Music is a good start.  It is a light, fresh and very easy to listen to.  Handel's father was in his mid 60's when George Frideric was born, he also hated music.  Somehow young Handel managed to learn the organ and spinet (an early keyboard instrument) - from these unpromising beginnings flourished the greatest keyboard instrumentalist of the day.

The three Water Music Suites have remained the composer's most popular non-vocal work for almost three centuries.  It is a collection of orchestral movements which King George I had requested for a concert on the River Thames.   In the 17th and 18th centuries the Thames was the busiest part of the city and other than for trade it was regularly used for displays of pomp such as the Lord Mayor's Parade.

King George I

King George I

At the time it was rumoured that the reason for the spectacular performance of the Water Music was to help King George steal some of London's spotlight back from the Prince, who at the time was worried that his time to rule would be shortened due to his father's long life and was throwing lavish parties and dinners to compensate.  The performance of this new work was the King's way of showing he could carry out gestures of even more grandeur than his son.

At the pageant the King was so pleased with the Water Music that according to the local paper The Daily Courant, the orchestra had to play it at least three times whilst going up and down the Thames.  The sections of the work that are best known today at two Suites in D major and F major.  Using horns and tumpets Handel ensured these movements would have sounded out across the Thames.

The English Concert is a baroque orchestra which play on period instruments.  It was founded in 1972 and directed from the harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock.  Whilst this is an older recording it remains one of the best as the reviewer for Gramophone Magazine said "It's unlikely that George I ever witnessed performances that live up to this one"

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Posted on December 28, 2014 .