Water Music (Handel)

Water Music (Handel)

The "Water Music" is a collection of orchestral movements, often considered as three suites, composed by George Frideric Handel. It premiered in the summer of 1717 (July 17, 1717) when King George I requested a concert on the River Thames. The concert was performed by 50 musicians playing on a barge close to the royal barge from which the King listened with some close friends (including the Duchess of Bolton, the Duchess of Newcastle, the Countess of Godolphin, Madam Kilmarnock, and the Earl of Orkney). George I was said to have loved it so much that he ordered the exhausted musicians to play the suites three times on the trip.

Music and Instrumentation

All the instruments in the Baroque orchestra were brought onto the barge, except the harpsichord since it was impossible to bring an instrument of such size onto the barge.

The instrumentation varies depending on the movement, but the requirements in a complete performance are a flute, two oboes, one bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, strings, 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, possibly the one at Cannons: this version is not suitable for outdoor performance, as the sound of stringed instruments does not carry well in the open air.

The "Water Music" opens with a French overture and includes minuets, bourrées and hornpipes. It is divided into three suites:

Suite in F major, HWV 348
# Overture (Largo – Allegro)
# Adagio e staccato
# Allegro – Andante – Allegro da capo
# Minuet
# Air
# Minuet
# Bourrée
# Hornpipe
# Allegro

Suite in D major, HWV 349
# Overture (Allegro)
# Alla Hornpipe
# Minuet
# Lento
# Bourrée

Suite in G major, HWV 350
# Allegro
# Rigaudon
# Allegro
# Minuet
# Allegro

However, there is good evidence for the somewhat different arrangement found in Friedrich Chrysander's edition of Handel's complete works ("Georg Friedrich Händels Werke", Vol. 47, published in 1886), where the "suites" in D and G have their movements mingled together. 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 and originally scored for two natural horns, two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo: in addition to the horn fanfares and orchestral responses, the original version contained an elaborate concerto-like first violin part, discarded in the later version. [ [http://mdz1.bib-bvb.de/~db/0001/bsb00016884/images/ Score] (E-book) of "Water Music" (the piece is given its German title "Wassermusik" in this edition by Friedrich Chrysander, Leipzig 1886)]

The music in each of the suites has no set order today. When the suite was played for the King, slow, often soft music was played when the King's boat and the orchestra's boat were close together, while louder, brisk passages were played when the boats drifted apart.


Legend has it that Handel composed the "Water Music" to regain the favour of King George I. Handel had been employed by the King while he was still Elector of Hanover and the composer was supposedly out of favour for moving to London. This story was first related by Handel's early biographer John Mainwaring; although it may have some foundation in fact, the tale as told by Mainwaring has been doubted by some Handel scholars.

Popular Culture and the Media

Many portions of the Water Music have become familiar. Between 1959 and 1988 a "Water Music" movement was used for the ident of Anglia Television. 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 cooking show The Frugal Gourmet.

Water Music was also featured on The Colbert Report for a segment called "America's Water Addiction... The Sea-monkey on our backs..." on Thursday, March 20, 2008.

Water Music was also used as the think cue to the short-lived "Price is Right" pricing game Gallery Game.


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. Older recordings tend to use arrangements of Handel's score for the modern orchestra, for example the arrangement by Hamilton Harty. In 1959 Charles Mackerras's landmark recording of the "Fireworks Music" opened the way to attempts to recreate the wind-band sound that Handel envisaged for the performance on the Thames.Fact|date=August 2008

The three recordings listed below use authentic instruments.

* Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert (1983) in "Handel: Orchestral Works", Archiv 463-094-2. (Arranges the movements in the same order as Chrysander's edition mentioned above);
* Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations (1993) [ [http://www.classicalacarte.net/Fiches/9860.htm Details of reissue on the "Alia Vox" label] ] ;
* The Brook Street Band (2003) has recorded the "indoor" version known as the "Oxford Water Music".


External links


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