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.