Water Music, a series of suites composed by George Frideric Handel, was originally written to be performed for a dinner party. On July 17, 1717, King George I of England took some friends in the British aristocracy out for a quiet evening. However, being the King, his definition of a quiet dinner outing was probably different from the average one; he took the nobles out on the Thames in huge open-air barges. The barges sailed from their starting point (Whitehall) on the Thames up to Chelsea, where the party feasted through the night. At three o'clock the next morning, the nobles boarded the barges and headed back to St. James's Palace.
Handel, a young composer at the time, was contracted to write joyous and soothing music to be played on the barges, hence the name Water Music. This unique setting forced Handel to improvise and innovate. For example, Water Music is the first English composition ever to include French horns; Handel discovered that, especially in unison with the trumpets, they were ideal for music being played outdoors.
Water Music has received wide acclaim ever since its first performance on the dinner barges. It is widely believed that the King liked it so much that he had it played over three times thoughout the party. Its fame is due, at least in part to the fact that:
- The piece is very easy to break up into smaller pieces- Though it's long, you are able to listen to sections of it at a time and still get the effect that was intended.
- Its instrumental variety- Handel flawlessly weaves a breathtaking tapestry of sound using every concert instrument available in the European spectrum at the time, from the inclusion of the French horn to the wonderful oboe solos.
- Its ensemble as well as orchestral potential- Water Music can be played both by a large orchestra and a small group of players.
- Its title- What originally sucked me into the piece was its title. The intrigue created by the title probably even convinces people to read this node. After all, who has ever heard of water and music in the same sentence before?
- Its uplifting tone- The score was originally performed at a party, its tone reflects this. The music reminds me of French Renaissance music that I once heard, the piece uplifts the listener from even the darkest of moods. The music evokes images of sunshine, bright colors, a clear sky, etc.
The original score for Water Music has been lost. However, the surviving copies sometimes group the score into three suites grouped by key: F major, G major, and D major. Another common arrangement mixes the D major and G major movements. The music is arranged according to key below:
Horn Suite in F major
- Overture: Largo- Allegro
- Adagio e staccato
- Allegro- Andante- Allegro
- Minuet for the French Horn
- Allegro (note: this second "Allegro" is intended to be here)
- Alla Hornpipe
Flute Suite in G major
- Menuet (note: this second "Menuet" is intended to be here)
- Country Dance
Trumpet Suite in D major
- Alla Hornpipe
- Trumpet Minuet
Though the arrangements may differ, it is certain that people will continue to listen and be moved by this breathtaking classical masterpiece for a long time to come.