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It was believed for so many years that the so-called “Water Music” by Handel was composed for the purpose of appeasing the wrath of George 1, King of England, which had been provoked by the composer when he had been permitted to visit England – George at that time was Elector of Hanover – and had overstayed his leave of absence.
George had succeeded to the British throne in 1714 and it was held that Handel’s propitiatory music has a surprise for the monarch been composed the following year when he made a state progress in his barge down the Thames.
This would have been a romantic incident but unfortunately proved to be untrue. Handel’s music was not written until 1717 and the King’s pleasure had long been smoothed over.
Yet the Water Music was written for George 1’s progress from Lambeth to Chelsea and the facts of the affair were communicated by Frederic Bonnet, envoy from the Duke of Brandenburg to the English court, in a report which the former made to his master and dated 19.July 1717.
The river party was arranged by Baron Kielmasegge for George’s pleasure and the royal barge was accompanied by a number of other boats containing members of the King’s suite.
On one of the barges was positioned Handel’s orchestra – fifty musicians – and Bonnet states that they comprised a ”trumpet, hunting horns, oboes, bassoons, German flutes, French flutes á bec, violins and basses but without voices.”
Handel’s composition so greatly charmed the King that he ordered it to be repeated “once before and once after supper, although it took an hour for each performance.”
The “Water music” was published in 1720. Of the twenty movements which comprised the work, six were arranged for modern orchestra by Sir Hamilton Harty, conductor of the Halle Orchestra, in Manchester, and it is this edition that is generally still heard.
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