Wednesday 17 July 2013

The Premiere of the Water Music, 1717

There are no nice ways of saying this, but my great-grandmother Gilflurt was a bit of a one. There was nothing she liked more than a party and nobody she would rather galavant with than that old Hanoverian rogue, George I.

George knew how to throw a bash and he also knew that people expected something more than a round of whist and last year's favourite tunes so he turned to his old Kapellmeister, George Frideric Handel, to commission some musical entertainment to accompany his latest and most ambitious party. Handel had previously served George in Germany and gossip had it that he had left for England under something of a cloud, so this was an invaluable chance to win back the favour of the monarch.

Portrait of George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner
George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner, 1726-28 

George's vision was of a party for the great and good with a difference. This celebration would take place on a river barge cruising along the Thames on a summer evening, eventually docking at Chelsea. Travelling in the early evening, there would be no need to row as the tide would propel the barge upstream at a leisurely pace, allowing the partygoers to enjoy the view and the company. A second barge would travel alongside carrying fifty musicians, performing the piece of music Handel had been asked to provide.

Handel eventually delivered the Water Music and as the barges began their stately journey from Whitehall Palace at 8.00pm on 17th July, 1717, with George I accompanied by a number of illustrious guests, his orchestra safely ensconced on the neighbouring vessel and all manner of Londoners sailing alongside as the the Thames filled with people eager to hear the new composition. On arrival at Chelsea the royal party took to the shore for a while before returning to their barge at 11.00pm.

Painting depicting the first performance of the Water Music
The first performance of the Water Music

Handel's music was an instant hit with the king and it was performed three times during the trip, the orchestra providing a gentle accompaniment to the festivities until just past midnight. As the strains of the orchestra faded away and the people of London returned their boats to the riverside and went to their beds, Handel's favour at court was firmly and permanently re-established.

If that's got you all fired up for more Handel, gallivant over to  Two Kings and a Composer by Christopher Antony Meade, a fascinating romp through Handel's relationship with George I and George II!

What? You want even more? Listen to Handel's Water Music here.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Mari Christian said...

The paintings are wonderful, Catherine.

Catherine Curzon said...

They are beautiful, aren't they?