Thursday, January 10, 2013

Georg Friedrich Handel: Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks

Though a German by birth, Georg Friedrich Handel became British by virtue of his move to England following the accession of Prince Georg, Elector of Hanover, to the throne of Great Britian as King George I.  For nearly a half century, Handel became a preeminent composer of baroque music, completing a vast array of works of various types, including his famed oratorios, concerto grossos, operas, and much more.

Among his best-known works are "Water Music" and "Music for the Royal Fireworks," which came over three decades apart.  The first was composed just a few years after Handel settled in England and was made for a pleasure cruise for the king on the River Thames which took place on 17 July 1717.  Fifty musicians on a barge performed the piece while the king's party was on the nearby royal craft.  The work was so well received that the sovereign ordered the musicians to perform the work three times and they were undoubtedly worn out by the three hours of playing.

In the case of the latter work, it was created for King George II for a performance at Green Park in London on 27 April 1749 to celebrate the treaty that ended the War of the Austrian Succession, a conflict that raged through much of Europe for the preceding eight years.  There had been a performance six days before at Vauxhall Gardens that drew 12,000 people and there was a three-hour wait as carriages vied to reach the gardens for the concert.

When played at Green Park to support the massive display of fireworks, the music overshadowed the pyrotechnics and "Music for the Royal Fireworks" became another masterpiece for the composer.  Because both it and "Water Music" were written for outdoor performances, the two pieces are often paired together in concert programs and on recordings.

The German budget label Pilz issued the first two of the three suites of "Water Music" and the concerto grosso, "Music for the Royal Fireworks," in 1993 along with a second disc of the fifth, sixth and seventh concerto grossos.  The music is filled with beautiful and graceful melodies, stately rhythms and the baroque majesty that, while different from that of Bach, who was Handel's contemporary, proved with his fellow composer to be the acme of the music of the age.

These two great works were performed by the Süddeutsch Philharmonie or Southwest German Orchestra in Konstanz on Lake Constance where Germany, Switzerland and Austria meet.  While this orchestra is probably not considered "world class" by connoisseurs, and amateur like YHB enjoys the performance perfectly fine.  In any case, the brilliance of Handel's famed works shines through.

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