A Day In The Life

Water Music King George I assumed the the crown of…
January 19, 2007, 3:32 am
Filed under: Music
Water Music

King George I assumed the the crown of Great Britain and Ireland on August 1, 1714. He was the first British king from The House of Hanover. George supposedly could not speak English and his ministers could not speak German so right away one can see that the political climate surrounding King George I was not too serene. He was an extremely unpopular monarch. He was perceived as too German and his subjects did not hesitate to make fun of his “uncouth German ways”. King George had his wife imprisoned in a castle. She was denied access to her children and forbidden to remarry. She was endowed with an income, establishment and servants. She was allowed to ride in a carriage outside the castle, with supervision, of course. While poor Sophia was locked away, George made merry with a succession of German mistresses. Yes, George was evidently quite the party animal and one of his favorite pastimes was to take pleasure in London’s Thames river. You guessed it…..King George had a party barge.

Now in the 1700’s, monster sound systems were in short supply and, surprisingly enough, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards weren’t born yet, so King George I had to make do with what was available. He had the popular German composer, George Frideric Handel, write some music and get an orchestra together for a big party to be held on July 17, 1717. The party was described by yet another German, Friedrich Bonet: ‘At about eight in the evening, the King repaired to his barge. Next to the King’s barge was that of the musicians, about 50 in number….no singers. The music had been composed specially by the famous Handel….His Majesty’s approval of it was so great that he caused it to be played three times in all, twice before and once after supper, even though each performance lasted an hour.’

Robert Dearling writes that “The Thames was crammed with boats whose occupants wanted to catch a glimpse of the royal party. From Whitehall the flotilla sailed majestically to Lord Ranelagh’s residence at Chelsea where the party alighted and took a choice supper at 1 am. Two hours later it made it’s way back, arriving at St. James’s about 4:30 am. A leisurely trip, and time enough to enjoy Handel’s music, even if Thameside residents may have found it a little unsuitable for small-hours listening.”

Handel took enormous pains in composing Water Music. He wrote music to suit every eventuality the evening might present including quiet floating music, ceremonial fanfares, sounds to aid digestion, loud music to announce the king’s passage along the river and so on and so forth.

Can you imagine witnessing this spectacle? The women and men in their ornate Baroque clothing and wigs. The banquet of food, the wine, the fireworks, the clandestine and not so clandestine liaisons, the intrigue….. all accompanied by Handel’s magnificent Water Music.

If you are unfamiliar with Handel’s Water Music, I strongly suggest you take the time to listen to it. I recommend the recording by Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner. You might recognize a few of the tunes as they are frequently used in weddings, the Olympic ceremonies and various other modern day events. There are twenty separate movements in the orchestral work so the listener is sure to find some bit of music that suits his or her fancy.

As the music floats through my headphones tonight, I think of the word ‘effervescent’. And, though perhaps not historically accurate, I imagine the bell-like tones of crystal goblets filled with champagne as they meet in a toast to the pleasures of life.


11 Comments so far
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Loved the history…Must go find ‘Water Music’…and a baroque wig, some banquet food, and fireworks. “Effervescent.” Is that like drinking Alka Seltzer and it bubbling out your nose?

Comment by swampwitch

Meanwhile back at the castle….
can’t get over the locked up wife to enjoy his special music.

Maybe she was crazier than he was. There was a lot of inter-marrying amongst the royalty and gene pool problems.

oh okay you twisted my arm… I’ll try and listen to the music soon

Comment by Pamela

I’m with Swampy…I’ll have to go find it!

Comment by Claudia

I know I’ve heard it before – but now that I know the history behind it, I will have to listen again.

That makes me curious as to what is behind all the other symphonies! (sometimes I would just like to be a fly on the wall of history.)

Comment by Karmyn R

I so enjoyed this post. I’ll have to listen again, with your post in mind 🙂

Comment by Kila

Swampy—I prefer champagne to Alka Seltzer!!

Pamela—According to the historical account I read, Sophia was simply an unwanted wife. At least he didn’t behead her!

Karmyn—Stay tuned for more musical “stories”. I like to research the music that I introduce to students. They seem to appreciate the music more with some historical background so I have lots of behind the scenes info!

Claudia and Kila—-Thanks for your comments!

Comment by SongBird

I love Handel’s Water Music. I grew up listening to it and I don’t have my own copy of it. I will have to get one. You have made me go back in time to when all I listened to was classical music (as a kid!) Although Bach was one of my very favorites, I really enjoyed Handel too. Especially Water Music.

I LOVE hearing the stories behind the music. I look forward to more of your insights!

Comment by Angelina

O.K. now I need to find some water music to enjoy…But the wife locked up? Glad for some of the changes of modern society!

Comment by Devon

What a wonderful introduction. I will remember this when I next hear Handel. Is this how you introduce this music to your students? I would think it is very impressive.

Comment by gawilli

I think you might need to check your facts. Just yesterday I saw a picture of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and going by what I saw, I’m pretty certain they were both around in 1700.

Comment by Willowtree

I loved it!
I hope you don’t mind, but I’d love to share this with my students.
We listened to selections from “water music” recently, when we passed through that time period.

Comment by LeftCoastOnlooker

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