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Handel's Water Music

Hannah French delves into the history and musical detail of one of Handel's best-known pieces: his Water Music, first performed for King George I in London in July 1717.

Hannah French delves into the history and musical detail of one of Handel's best-known pieces - his Water Music, first performed for King George I on the River Thames in July 1717.

A contemporary article from the Daily Courant reported the event thus:

"On Wednesday evening, 17 July 1717, at about 8 o'clock, the King took water at Whitehall in an open barge wherein were also the Duchess of Bolton, the Duchess of Newcastle, the Countess of Godolphin, Madam Kilmanseck, and the Earl of Orkney and went up the river towards Chelsea. Many other barges with "persons of quality" attended, and so great a number of boats, that the whole river in a manner was covered. A City Company's barge was employed for the music, wherein were 50 instruments of all sorts, who played all the way from Lambeth (while the barges drove with the tide without rowing, as far as Chelsea) the finest symphonies composed express for this occasion, by Mr Handel; which his Majesty liked so well, that he caused it to be played over three times in going and returning. At eleven his Majesty went ashore at Chelsea, where a supper was prepared and then there was another very fine consort of music, which lasted till 2, after which, his Majesty came again into his barge and returned the same way, the music continuing to play till he landed."

It has since become one of the most enduring compendiums of 18th-century dance music, beloved of Baroque orchestras and modern audiences alike. Hannah French explores the practicalities, conditions and acoustics of Georgian on-board entertainment and chooses some of the best recordings of the last 25 years.

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25 minutes

Music Played

  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Overture and Air

    Performer: Federico Guglielmo. Ensemble: L'Arte dell'Arco.
    • CPO : 777312.
    • CPO.
    • 1.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Bouree and Hornpipe

    Ensemble: The English Concert. Director: Trevor Pinnock.
    • ARCHIV : 410-525 - 2.
    • ARCHIV.
    • 7.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Adagio e Spiccato

    Ensemble: Academy for Ancient Music Berlin.
    • HARMONIA MUNDI: HMC 902216.
    • HARMONIA MUNDi.
    • 2.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Minuet I and Minuet II

    Orchestra: Le Concert des Nations. Director: Jordi Savall.
    • Alia Vox : 9860.
    • Alia Vox.
    • 6.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Lentement and Bouree

    Ensemble: Academy for Ancient Music Berlin.
    • HARMONIA MUNDI: HMC 902216.
    • HARMONIA MUNDi.
    • 16.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Allegro, Andante, Presto

    Orchestra: Academy of Ancient Music. Conductor: Christopher Hogwood.
    • L'Oiseau-Lyre : 455709.
    • L'Oiseau-Lyre.
    • 3.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Allegro and Alla Hornpipe

    Orchestra: English Baroque Soloists. Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
    • Philips : 464706.
    • Philips.
    • 17.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Menuet for the Horn

    Ensemble: Aradia Baroque Ensemble. Conductor: Kevin Mallon.
    • Naxos : 8.557764.
    • Naxos.
    • 5.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Rigaudon and Country Dance 1 & 2

    Ensemble: The King’s Consort. Conductor: Robert King.
    • HYPERION : CDA-66967.
    • HYPERION.
    • 13.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Minuet

    Ensemble: Berlin Academy of Ancient Music.
    • HARMONIA MUNDI: HMC 902216.
    • HARMONIA MUNDi.
    • 13.
  • George Frideric Handel

    Water Music - Menuet

    Ensemble: Les Solistes du Concert Spirituel. Director: Hervé Niquet.
    • GLOSSA : GCDSA-921616.
    • GLOSSA.
    • 12.

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