The 300-year reign of Water Music · For Our Consideration · The A.V. Membership

Let me inform you one thing about Handel’s Water Music that you just’ve probably heard a minimum of partly, even should you don’t comprehend it—most likely the luxurious “Alla Hornpipe” motion from the second suite, the genteel “Air” from the primary, or the ball-gown-ready “Rigaudon” from the third. These get used rather a lot in motion pictures and TV and are a part of the canon of badly overplayed Western wedding ceremony music. As for the origins of Water Music (or the Water Music, if you wish to be an actual snoot about it), right here’s what we all know for certain: On July 17, 1717, the 57-year-old King George I, who had been topped to the throne of Nice Britain although he was very far down the road of succession and spoke little to no English, boarded an open barge for a leisure cruise down three miles of the River Thames, accompanied by duchesses, earls, countesses, courtiers, and a floating 50-piece orchestra; mentioned orchestra was led by the 32-year-old George Frederick Handel, a fellow German expat who had been George I’s court docket composer again in Hanover, when the king was nonetheless the prince of the Voters Of Brunswick-Lüneburg; and the music this Handel man threw collectively for that night time was most likely reworked and repurposed many occasions afterward. The closest factor we have now to a major supply on the barge live performance is a paragraph-length article from the July 19, 1717, version of The Day by day Courant, the primary day by day newspaper in Britain, which misspells Handel’s title as “Hendel.” The earliest surviving rating for Water Music dates from the 1730s.

There are some legends that encompass Water Music—just like the one about how Handel wrote the music to regain George I’s favor, having left his duties at Hanover for a profession in London years earlier—however these are most likely irrelevant. These days, it’s typically carried out or recorded as a group of three suites, with 21 brief actions between them, although this isn’t what Handel and his 50-piece band first performed again in the summertime of 1717. (Actually, my favourite recording of Water Music, carried out in 1993 by Jordi Savall, sequences the actions in a different way from most variations; within the curiosity of user-friendliness, all references listed below are to the preferred sequencing.) The baroque is the earliest interval of European music to stay in fixed circulation—the house of such chestnuts as Vivaldi’s The 4 Seasons and Pachelbel’s Canon In D, to not point out the collected works of J.S. Bach—however the well-liked picture of the perfectionist composer agonizing by candlelight over a years-in-the-making masterpiece is a later invention; it dates to across the cult of Beethoven within the 19th century. Actually, the powdered-wig-wearing European composers of the 18th century had been extra like a cross between jazz composer-bandleaders and prolific Hollywood scorers. They realized to jot down by improvising over well-known themes, made most of their dwelling from dwell live shows, wrote and rewrote rapidly, and freely borrowed from one another’s work.

There’s an entire sub-branch of scholarship—fairly attention-grabbing stuff, truly—dedicated to the borrowing and recycling of the good composers. In some instances, it was brazen, like Bach’s self-plagiarism or Handel’s in depth use of themes from his absurdly prolific modern Georg Philipp Telemann, and in others, subtler, like how one can normally determine which Mozart quartet Beethoven was buzzing to himself when he wrote this or that. The opposite factor it is best to learn about baroque music—in addition to the truth that most of it was written in a rush, to be carried out as soon as after which rewritten—is that it sounded uncooked. In these days, violins and cellos had brief fingerboards and intestine strings, trumpets didn’t have trumpet valves, and flutes had been made out of soppy boxwood as an alternative of metallic. The components now performed by French horns had been written for valve-less glorified put up horns referred to as “pure horns,” whereas the basso continuo components (principally the rhythm part of a baroque-era band) would possibly embrace a transportable single-manual pipe organ and a 6-foot, 15-string super-lute referred to as a theorbo, each of which had been anticipated to improvise round a bass line. This can be a drawback that I truly like about baroque music, most likely as a result of critics are masochists and need challenges; there’s a level the place it turns into troublesome to separate compositional genius from the genius of historical past.

Like most baroque composers, Handel was foremost a grasp of association, with an amazing ear for musical potential; his reuses of Telemann themes are normally higher than the originals. Really, that is true of a whole lot of nice composers of what we’ve come to broadly determine as classical music. Melody may be what individuals can’t get out of their heads, however the relationship of the devices is what they expertise after they hear an orchestra. And but Water Music, Handel’s most oversaturated and played-to-death composition, has been largely organized by historical past, custom, and shifting tastes. I like the primary suite’s brassy, wah-wah-ing “Allegro” and pensive “Adagio E Staccato” myself—the extra dramatic and energetic actions on this 300-year-old inventory library of performed-to-death cues, musical shorthand for an aura of sophistication. However the place does Handel finish and “Handel” start? As a result of we will speak about historic practices all we wish, however the truth is that the music we have now was most likely reused and perfected by Handel in line with shifting preferences and desires, and has been rearranged and sequenced a number of occasions over. Is all the things that lasts a landform, carved and eroded by time in some totally different function and which means? It’s most likely naïve to suppose that this query solely applies to artwork and leisure that’s stood the proverbial take a look at of time. Every part exists in some difficult and tense assembly between what was meant and what we wish or want it to be.

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