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The Water Music in Three Suites Complete

 Handel's Water Music is a collection of short orchestral pieces composed to serenade King George I of England during a boating party on the Thames river in 1717. The music is grouped into three suites, each featuring different instrumental colors and having its own distinct character. The individual movements that comprise these suites include overtures, fanfares, instrumental arias, and dances.



1.     The Water Music Suite I Overture

2.     The Water Music Suite I Adagio e staccato

3.     The Water Music Suite I Allegro, Andante, Allegro

4.     The Water Music Suite I Allegro

5.     The Water Music Suite I Air

6.     The Water Music Suite I Minuet

7.     The Water Music Suite I Bourree

8.     The Water Music Suite I Hornpipe

9.     The Water Music Suite I Allegro

10.   The Water Music Suite II Allegro

11.   The Water Music Suite II Alla Hornpipe

12.   The Water Music Suite II Minuet

13.    The Water Music Suite II Lentement

14.    The Water Music Suite II Bourree

15.    The Water Music Suite III Sarabande

16.    The Water Music Suite III Rigaudon

17.    The Water Music Suite III Minuet

18.    The Water Music Suite III Gigue

19.    Handel’s Early Career

20.    Listener’s Guide to The Water Music Suite I Movements I & II

21.    Listener’s Guide to The Water Music Suite I Movement III

22.    Listener’s Guide to The Water Music Suite I Movements IV – VI

23.    Listener’s Guide to The Water Music Suite I Movements VII – IX

24.    Listener’s Guide to The Water Music Suite II Movements I – V

25.    Listener’s Guide to The Water Music Suite III Movements I – IV

26.    Handel in England


 George Frideric Handel was born in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, in the central German city of Halle. His family was not musical, and Handel’s father initially tried to discourage his son’s musical interests, hoping that he would pursue a more dependable career in law. Handel, however, displayed not only an exceptional talent but a strong will, developing his skill as a keyboard player despite paternal objections. When Handel was just 10 years old, during a visit to a relative employed at the court of Johann Adolph, Duke of Weissenfels, his playing on the organ made such an impression that the Duke financed the boy’s music studies.

 Handel seems never to have considered seriously his father’s wish that he study law. In any event, music soon claimed him. At age 17 he obtained a position as organist in one of Halle’s principal churches. A year later, in 1803, he departed his native town and for the next three years worked in Hamburg, the German city most devoted to opera. Like many composers of his day, Handel was eager to make his mark in the theater, and he was fortunate to obtain employment as a violinist and harpsichordist in the opera orchestra. The harpsichord was the most important instrument in opera, which attests to Handel’s skill as a player. His experience of many contemporary operas encouraged him to write several of his own.

 Handel’s stay in Hamburg whetted his appetite for opera and he soon realized that he would do well to seek knowledge of that genre at its source. Accordingly, he set out for Italy in the autumn of 1706. During the next four years he stayed in Florence, Rome, Venice and other cities, hearing the music of his foremost Italian colleagues an becoming acquainted with many of them in person.

 These years were vitally important to Handel’s development as a musician. In Italy he learned the art of writing appealing and expressive melodies, acquired the dramatic sensibility that would serve him so well as a composer of operas and oratorios, and attained an understanding of orchestral composition. As his biographer Winton Dean put it, Handel “arrive in Italy a gifted but crude composer with an uncertain command of form, and left it a polished and fully-equipped artist.”

 In 1710, at age 25, Handel returned to Germany, obtaining a position as court composer to Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover. It seems, however, that the young musician already had his sights set on London, where Italian opera was enjoying a sudden surge of popularity, and he managed to obtain an immediate leave of absence in order to visit England. Handle arrived in London in September 1710, and scored a conspicuous success with his opera Rinaldo. Although he could not have know it at the time, this would be merely the first of many triumphs he would achieve in the English capital.

 Handel soon returned to Hanover in 1711, but he had found the cosmopolitan atmosphere and busy music life of London so much to his liking that he obtained leave from his duties in Hanover to visit England a second time in 1712. Although he agreed to return to Hanover before long, Handel now settled into a comfortable routine in his new home. By day he composed operas for the London theaters; during the evenings he consorted with the cream of English society, including the royal family. The country’s ruler, Queen Anne, showed her approval by granting Handel an annual stipend and commissioning him to compose works for her birthday celebration, the signing of an important peace accord (the Treaty of Utrecht) and other national occasions.

 In August 1714 Queen Anne died leaving no heir and by an ironic twist of fate the English crown now passed to the House of Hanover. Handel had by this time effectively abandoned his post in Hanover and taken up permanent residence in England. We do not know whether the truant composer ignored calls to return to Germany, or, indeed, what the state of his relationship with Georg Ludwig was at this time. If it was strained, he may well have felt some discomfort when, in September, Elector Georg Ludwig arrived in London to be crowned King George the First. According to a widely circulated but undocumented story, Handel was initially afraid to appear at court. Eventually, however, he managed to repair his relationship with England’s new king, for he enjoyed royal favor for many years.

 In fact, Handel became for all practical purposes England’s national composer. He composed anthems for the coronation of King George II, for the wedding of Prince Frederick, and for the funeral of Queen Catherine. His oratorio Judas Macabeus commemorated the crown’s victory over the rebellion led by Prince Charles in 1746. When King George ordered a huge pyro-technical display in a London park to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1749, Handel wrote his Music for the Royal Fireworks. Through these and other efforts, Handel became something of an institution in his adopted homeland, his music an expression of patriotic pride at the height of the British empire.

 Despite these occasional commissions to write public ceremonial music or works for royal entertainment, the theater remained the center of Handel’s professional life. Here his natural business sense served him well, for he was as much an entrepreneur as an artist in the opera house. He assumed responsibility for the production of his works and shared in the box office profits. But by the late 1720s the English started to tire of the contrived plots and outlandish theatricality that characterized opera during the Baroque era. As attendance at his presentations dwindled, so did Handel’s finances, and in 1737 the company that had been producing his operas in London collapsed in bankruptcy.

 By this time, however, Handel had begun to compose a new type of work, the oratorio. This choral work was less costly to present than opera yet had the potential to appeal to a broader audience drawn form the rising English middle class. Handel’s oratorios related classical legends and Biblical stories, the latter often told through extracts from the scriptures. The most famous of these works is, of course, Messiah, which Handel wrote in 1741.

 Although universally revered today, Messiah initially incurred the wrath of religious conservatives who objected to its portrayal of Christ in the secular setting of the concert hall. But the composer finally outmaneuvered his zealous critics. Beginning in 1750, he led annual performances of the oratorio for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital, a respected London charity. This gesture won Handel general admiration and secured for Messiah the beginning of the great esteem and affection it enjoys to this day.

 Despite his celebrity, Handel was in many ways a very private person, As a result, out knowledge of his personality and character is somewhat obscure. Certainly he was pragmatic and worldly, as the enterprising nature of his opera and oratorio presentations attests. But he also reportedly fell into a “divine rapture”, as one of his contemporaries describe, when composing Messiah. He could be stubborn and angry when provoked, but he could also be remarkably generous. Acquaintances often remarked on his dry and rather sharp with, and on his voracious appetite and love of good food and drink. Handel never married, and his relationship with the fair sex remains a mystery. While in Italy he reportedly fell in love with a certain soprano. An English contemporary observed that “his Amours were rather of short duration.” Music, it seems, served as his one true companion.

 Though with failing eyesight in his later years, Handel continued to present oratorios to London up until the last year of his life. He died a celebrated figure in 1759. In accordance with his well, he was buried in Westminster Abbey. Some 3,000 people attended his funeral.

 Unlike his great contemporary, J.S. Bach, Handel’s reputation did not fade after his death but instead grew ever brighter. His oratorios and orchestral music continued to be performed in England and elsewhere for the remainder of the 18th century. Both Mozart and Beethoven knew Handel’s works and admired them. During the 19th century, he alone among musicians of his era continued to reach a large audience. Today Handel’s music is more widely performed than ever, and the composer stands beside Bach as music’s defining genius during the Baroque era.

The Water Music

 Handel composed the collection of orchestral pieces known as the Water Music for a truly royal entertainment: an excursion on the Thames river hosted by England’s King George I. Handels earliest biographers proposed that the composer was in disfavor with the monarch until the Water Music restored him to His Majesty’s graces. This seems at least plausible but unlikely. When he took up permanent residence in England in 1712, Handel was still engaged as music director at the court of Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover. He had obtained leave to visit London with the understanding that he would return to Hanover within a reasonable time. However, Handel’s rising fortunes in England gave him little reason to leave, and his stay in London became a matter not of weeks or months but of years. When the English crown passed to the House of Hanover in 1714, Handel’s nominal employer arrived in London to be crowned King George I.

 The story that Handel was subsequently afraid to appear at court has acquired the force of legend. This story claims that a reconciliation finally occurred due to the King’s delight with the music Handel produced for a river party in August, 1715. However, there is little evidence to support it. No newspaper reports or other documentation or royal barge excursion in 1715 now exists. Besides, George I attended performances of Handel’s works shortly after he arrive in England, and he readily renewed the stipend Queen Anne had granted the composer before he death. Certainly he had more important concerns than holding a grudge against a mere musician.

 It seems more likely, then, that the Water Music was first heard on the evening of July 17, 1717. On this date the Kind did hose a river trip, and this event has been amply documented. One report comes from a Prussian diplomat stationed in London, who offered these details:

            “About eight in the evening the King repaired to his barge, into which were admitted the Duchess of Bolton, Countess Godolphin, Madame de Kilmanseck, Mrs. Ware and the Earl of Orkney, [and] the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber in Waiting. Next to the King’s barge was that of the musicians, about fifty in number, who played on all kinds of instruments, to wit trumpets, horns, oboes, bassoons, flutes, recorders, violins and basses….The music had been composed specially by the famous Mr. Handel, a native of Halle and His Majesty’s principal court composer. His Majesty approved of it to be repeated three times in all, although each performance lasted an hour  - namely twice before supper and once after supper. The [weather in the]evening was all that could be desired for the festivity, the number of barges and above all of boats filled with people desirous of hearing was beyond counting…….The concert cost Baron Kilmanseck L150 for the musicians alone.”

 The music Handel assembled to serenade the King and his party as they floated on the Thames consisted of a loose selection of overtures, fanfares, dances and instrumental airs. Precisely how the composer arranged these movements, and in what order, is uncertain, for the Water Music was published in different short excerpts over the course of the next 50 years. But the music itself – its instrumentation and the keys in which the various movements appear – suggests a grouping of three suites, and this has become the accepted format for performing the work..

 The Water Music opens with a full-blown overture that adheres to Handel’s typical pattern of  a ceremonious introduction in slow tempo leading to a contrapuntal Allegro. There follows a particularly fine example of Handel’s instrumental aria, its melodic lines and harmonies combining dignity and tenderness in equal measure. The second suite also begins with a prelude. This movement, however, consists entirely of elaborate fanfares featuring the brass instruments. Nearly all the other movements are dances. They feature the characteristic rhythms of the minuet, the bourree, the hornpipe and others well known to the composer’s listeners. 

 Modern recordings of the Water Music may offer just a limited selection of movements collected as a single suite; the accompanying recording includes all three suites in full.

The Baroque Era in Music

 The period from approximately 1600 to 1750 has become known to historians of music as the Baroque era. Initially, the term “Baroque” just described a particular style of music, one marked by ornate melodic turns, brilliant instrumental sound and extravagant displays of virtuosity. While some of these traits do serve to distinguish the music of this era from the earlier Renaissance and subsequent Classical periods, music from the Baroque era as a whole is quite varied in character and texture. Much of it presents a beguiling sweetness, with relatively simple textures and song-like melodies.

 The Baroque era saw the rise of several developments that have profoundly shaped the course of Western music over the last three centuries and more. Perhaps the most conspicuous of these was the development of two important types of composition: opera and orchestral music.

 Opera originated in Italy at the start of the seventeenth century and gradually became a favorite entertainment in all the major European capitals. Orchestral music developed somewhat later, following the perfection of the violin, viola and cello by Italian craftsman, and the redesign of the flute, oboe and bassoon in France.

 Originally, composers used the orchestra in connection with opera or ballet, as well as for special church music. But by about 1700 orchestral music had achieved an independent status, and such music began to be head outside of any theatrical or ecclesiastical context. The first important forms of orchestral composition were the concerto, developed chiefly in Italy, and the danced suite, which was cultivated especially in France and Germany.

 The development of concert music for orchestra coincided with the culmination of the Baroque era during the first half of the eighteenth century. This provided a golden age for music, one whose luster was brightened by many fine composers. Among the greatest of them were Vivaldi, Bach, Scarlatti, Telemann and, by no means least, Handel.

The Missing Details of Baroque Compositions

 Baroque composers left out many of the details that composers of later eras routinely included in their scores. For example, an important feature of Baroque music is the use of embellishment or ornamentation, but these were rarely written out in the score. Composers during the Baroque era permitted and even expected performers to add their own impromptu decorative melodic details to a composition. The conventions for doing this were widely known by musicians in the early eighteenth century and so were not written out by the composer. It was particularly understood that whenever a musical phrase or passage was repeated, the second statement should be embellished in some fashion.

 In a broader sense, Baroque composers gave only very general directions for performing their music. For example, they would not which instruments were to play a passage of music, but not necessarily when individual instruments were to be played. They gave only a general sense of tempo and little about dynamics – that is, where the music was loud or soft, or about basic phrasing – where the music builds up and fades away. And it was often left to the performers and accepted convention whether a note was played long or short.

 These specific details in modern performances Baroque music are prepared by the conductor, an editor, or the performer. So two performances of the same piece by a Baroque composer can often be very different. For this recording, Maestro Schwarz prepared the edition.

Handel’s Orchestra and the Water Music

 The orchestra for which Handel wrote the Water Music varied substantially from the modern symphony orchestra. Instruments we take for granted in the music of Brahms, Tchaikovsky or Ravel – clarinets, trombones and others – were not yet widely in use in the early 18th century. Handel had essentially three types of instruments at his disposal: strings; brass (specifically, horns and trumpets); and woodwinds (namely, flutes, oboes and bassoons). He evidently conceived these instrumental groups as having distinct characters, and he often used them as separate choirs rather than seeking to blend them.

 The string section forms the backbone of Handel’s orchestra – not surprising, since it was the core ensemble for all orchestras during the Baroque period. In fact, many Baroque orchestras were only made up of strings. In addition to the familiar violins, violas, cellos and basses, the string section included harpsichord. That keyboard instrument provided accompaniment to all instrumental music during the Baroque era. So ubiquitous was its use that composers did not need to specify it; musicians simply understood that it should be included in performance and often devised parts for it extemporaneously from the orchestral note.

 Among the woodwinds, the reed instruments (oboes and bassoons) also appear in all three suites. Frequently Handel treats these instruments as a choir. In addition, he occasionally casts a single oboe in a solo role; the second movement of the first suite, for example, presents an aria for the oboe with discreet accompaniment from the strings.

 Apart from the strings and reed instruments, each of the three Water Music suites features different instrumental colors. The first suite makes conspicuous use of the French horns and is sometimes called the “horn suite” for its prominent use of that instrument. In fact Handel’s Water Music was one of the very first compositions to use French horns, and much of their music here recalls their earlier association with hunting calls. Handel’s second Water Music suite uses trumpets to stirring effect. The third suite abandons the brass instruments in favor of flutes, whose timbre imparts a sweet and intimate tone to this portion of the work.

 By treating the several families of instruments as distinct choirs, Handel was able to produce antiphonal effects – calls and responses between different groups of players. Moreover, the juxtaposition of contrasting tone colors was ideally suited for outdoor performance. In scoring the Water Music, Handel perfectly calculated the setting in which it was to be performed, and one delights in imagining how these pieces must have sounded to their first audience, floating on the Thames on that warm summer evening in 1717.