The Water Music
is a collection of orchestral movements, often considered three suite
In music, a suite is an ordered set of instrumental or orchestral pieces normally performed in a concert setting rather than as accompaniment; they may be extracts from an opera, ballet , or incidental music to a play or film , or they may be entirely original movements .In the...
s, composed by George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel was a German-British Baroque composer, famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. Handel was born in 1685, in a family indifferent to music...
. It premiered on 17 July 1717 after King George I
George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1 August 1714 until his death, and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the Holy Roman Empire from 1698....
had requested a concert on the River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...
. The concert was performed by 50 musicians playing on a barge near the royal barge
A pleasure barge is a flat bottomed, slow moving boat used for leisure. It is contrasted with a standard barge, which is used to transport freight...
from which the King listened with close friends, including Anne Vaughan, the Duchess of Bolton
Lieutenant-General Charles Powlett , 3rd Duke of Bolton KG PC was a British nobleman and politician....
, the Duchess of Newcastle
Harriet Pelham-Holles, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was the wife of the British statesman and Prime Minister Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She was the granddaughter of Sir Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin and the granddaughter of John Churchill, 1st Duke of...
, Countess of Darlington
Sophia Charlotte von Kielmansegg, Countess of Darlington and Countess of Leinster was a German-born British courtier and a half-sister of George I of Great Britain.-Early life:...
, the Countess of Godolphin, Madam Kilmarnock, and the Earl of Orkney. The barges, heading for Chelsea
Chelsea is an area of West London, England, bounded to the south by the River Thames, where its frontage runs from Chelsea Bridge along the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk, Lots Road and Chelsea Harbour. Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above...
Lambeth is a district of south London, England, and part of the London Borough of Lambeth. It is situated southeast of Charing Cross.-Toponymy:...
and leaving the party after midnight, used the tides of the river. George I was said to have enjoyed the suites so much that he made the exhausted musicians play them three times over the course of the outing.
Music and instrumentation
All the instruments in the Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...
orchestra were included in the composition, except the harpsichord
A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It produces sound by plucking a string when a key is pressed.In the narrow sense, "harpsichord" designates only the large wing-shaped instruments in which the strings are perpendicular to the keyboard...
Timpani, or kettledrums, are musical instruments in the percussion family. A type of drum, they consist of a skin called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet...
, which would have been inconvenient to bring onto the barge. The suites' music reflects this, with strings, for example, providing support usually afforded by the timpani.
The instrumentation varies depending on the movement, but the requirements in a complete performance are a flute
The Western concert flute is a transverse woodwind instrument made of metal or wood. It is the most common variant of the flute. A musician who plays the flute is called a flautist, flutist, or flute player....
, two oboe
The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind family. In English, prior to 1770, the instrument was called "hautbois" , "hoboy", or "French hoboy". The spelling "oboe" was adopted into English ca...
s, one bassoon
The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor registers, and occasionally higher. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band and chamber music literature...
, two horns
The horn is a brass instrument consisting of about of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell. A musician who plays the horn is called a horn player ....
, two trumpet
The trumpet is the musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpets are among the oldest musical instruments, dating back to at least 1500 BCE. They are played by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound which starts a standing wave vibration in the air...
The string section is the largest body of the standard orchestra and consists of bowed string instruments of the violin family.It normally comprises five sections: the first violins, the second violins, the violas, the cellos, and the double basses...
, and continuo: this instrumentation is effective in outdoor performance. (Some of the music is also preserved in a contemporary score written for a smaller orchestra: this version is not suitable for outdoor performance, as the sound of stringed instruments does not carry well in the open air).
opens with a French overture
The French overture is a musical form widely used in the Baroque period. Its basic formal division is into two parts, which are usually enclosed by double bars and repeat signs. They are complementary in styles , and the first ends with a half-cadence that requires an answering structure with a...
and includes minuets, bourrée
The bourrée is a dance of French origin common in Auvergne and Biscay in Spain in the 17th century. It is danced in quick double time, somewhat resembling the gavotte. The main difference between the two is the anacrusis, or upbeat; a bourrée starts on the last beat of a bar, creating a...
s and hornpipe
The term hornpipe refers to any of several dance forms played and danced in Britain and elsewhere from the late 17th century until the present day. It is said that hornpipe as a dance began around the 16th century on English sailing vessels...
s. It is divided into three suites:
Suite in F major (HWV 348)
- Overture (Largo – Allegro)
- Adagio e staccato
- Allegro – Andante – Allegro da capo
- Allegro (no actual tempo marking)
- Allegro (variant)
- Alla Hornpipe (variant)
Suite in D major (HWV 349)
- Ouverture (Allegro)
- Alla Hornpipe
Suite in G major (HWV 350)
The rigaudon is a French baroque dance with a lively duple metre. The music is similar to that of a bourrée, but the rigaudon is rhythmically simpler with regular phrases ....
There is evidence for the different arrangement found in Chrysander's Gesellschaft edition of Handel's works (in volume 47, published in 1886), where the movements from the "suites" in D and G were mingled and published as one work with HWV 348. This sequence derives from Samuel Arnold's first edition of the complete score in 1788 and the manuscript copies dating from Handel's lifetime. Chrysander's edition also contains an earlier version of the first two movements of HWV 349 in the key of F major composed in 1715 (originally scored for two natural horns, two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo), where in addition to the horn fanfares and orchestral responses, the original version contained an elaborate concerto-like first violin part.
The music in each of the suites has no set order today.
Legend has it that Handel composed Water Music
to regain the favour of King George I. Handel had been employed by the future king before he succeeded to the British throne when he was Elector of Hanover. The composer supposedly fell out of favour for moving to London in the reign of Queen Anne
Anne ascended the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8 March 1702. On 1 May 1707, under the Act of Union, two of her realms, England and Scotland, were united as a single sovereign state, the Kingdom of Great Britain.Anne's Catholic father, James II and VII, was deposed during the...
. This story was first related by Handel's early biographer John Mainwaring
John Mainwaring was an English theologian and the first biographer of the composer Georg Friedrich Händel in any language. He was a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, and became rector of the parish of Church Stretton, Shropshire, and, later professor of Divinity at Cambridge...
; although it may have some foundation in fact, the tale as told by Mainwaring has been doubted by some Handel scholars.
Another legend has it that the Elector of Hanover approved of Handel's permanent move to London, knowing the separation between them would be temporary. Both were allegedly aware the Elector of Hanover would eventually succeed to the British throne after Queen Anne's death.
Popular culture and the media
Many portions of Water Music
have become familiar. Between 1959 and 1988 a Water Music
movement was used for the ident of Anglia Television
Anglia Television is the ITV franchise holder for the East Anglia franchise region. Although Anglia Television takes its name from East Anglia, its transmission coverage extends beyond the generally accepted boundaries of that region. The station is based at Anglia House in Norwich, with regional...
. The D major movement in 3/2 meter subtitled "Alla Hornpipe" is particularly notable and has been used frequently for television and radio commercials, including commercials for the privatisation of the UK water companies in the late 1980s. The "Air" and "Bourrée" from the F major "suite" have also become popular with audiences, with the latter being the theme music to the popular PBS cooking show The Frugal Gourmet.
Disney World features Water Music
as the background music for a parade of sea creatures lit up with electric lights off the coast of the Magic Kingdom.
Allegro in D was used in an inspirational scene from the 1989 movie Dead Poets Society
Dead Poets Society is a 1989 American drama film directed by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams. Set at the conservative and aristocratic Welton Academy in Vermont in 1959, it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry.The script was written...
, starring Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke.
There are many recordings. The Music for the Royal Fireworks
, which was also written for outdoor performance, is often paired with the Water Music
on recordings. Together, these works constitute Handel's most famous music for what we would now consider the orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...
. Older recordings tend to use arrangements of Handel's score for the modern orchestra, for example the arrangements by Hamilton Harty
Sir Hamilton Harty was an Irish and British composer, conductor, pianist and organist. In his capacity as a conductor, he was particularly noted as an interpreter of the music of Berlioz and he was much respected as a piano accompanist of exceptional prowess...
and Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Anthony Stokowski was a British-born, naturalised American orchestral conductor, well known for his free-hand performing style that spurned the traditional baton and for obtaining a characteristically sumptuous sound from many of the great orchestras he conducted.In America, Stokowski...
. More recent recordings tend to use historically informed performance
Historically informed performance is an approach in the performance of music and theater. Within this approach, the performance adheres to state-of-the-art knowledge of the aesthetic criteria of the period in which the music or theatre work was conceived...
methods appropriate for baroque music and often use authentic instruments.