Handel - Water Music

Handel's Water Music is made up of three orchestral suites, written for an outdoor performance for King George I on the Thames.

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Handel composed his wonderfully jolly Water Music around 1717. and it was first performed on 17 July that year, after George I requested a concert on the River Thames. The king watched from the royal barge with various dukes and duchesses as the 50 musicians played nearby.

The suites are pretty easy on the ear and jauntily life-affirming. Exactly the sort of music you would like to waft you down the River Thames if you were a king with the weight of government on your shoulders; in fact, the king enjoyed the music so much, he asked the musicians to play the suites three times over the course of the trip down the river.

Packed with catchy and famous tunes (you'll probably recognise at least one!), each movement is based on a dance style. There's actually no set order for the suites to be performed, but it's generally agreed the first is in F major, the second is in D, and the third is in G. It’s Suite No. 1 that is the most popular. In eleven sections, it begins with a beautiful French-style Ouverture, continues through a jaunty 'Bourée', a stately 'Minuet' and ends with the grand 'Alla Hornpipe'.

It's often paired with Handel's other celebratory royal river piece, Music for the Royal Fireworks , written in 1749 for George II. He was obviously well practised at writing music that would carry when performed outside, using bassoons, horns and trumpets to help the sound carry.

Video: Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra

Handel: Water Music recordings

Handel