This month marks 300 years since composer George Frideric Handel premiered his composition (and one of the most famous pieces of classical music in the world) Water Music – and it was in a rather fitting setting.

The first performance of the composition – which was deliberately created for
playing outdoors (and carrying across water) – took place at about 8pm on 17th July, 1717, aboard a City of London barge in the River Thames.

Some 50 musicians played the piece – using everything from flutes and recorders to trumpets, horns, violins and basses – with Handel himself fulfilling the role of conductor.

The barge was part of a rather grand flotilla which made its way up the river from the Palace of Whitehall to Chelsea, at the centre of which was a royal barge upon which King George I and members of the nobility, including various duchesses, rode.

Numerous other Londoners also turned out to hear the performance aboard all manner of watercraft and the king was apparently so impressed with what he heard that he requested several encores both on the trip to Chelsea and on the return journey.

The story goes that the somewhat unpopular king had apparently requested the concert on the river to upstage his son, the Prince of Wales (and future King George II), who was stealing the limelight by throwing lavish parties (the king and his son were famously at odds and it was therefore no shock when the prince didn’t attend the performance).

There’s another story, meanwhile, that suggested Handel composed the piece to regain the favour of the King which he had apparently lost when, seeking to capitalise on his growing fame, he left his employment as conductor at the court of the then Elector of Hanover (a position George held before he was king) and moved from Germany to London during the reign of Queen Anne (although some claim the future king knew he would one day follow Handel to London and actually approved of his decision to move there).

Water Music, meanwhile, has since become part of popular culture – it’s generally said that most people will recognise at least one part of it – but interestingly, no-one is said to be exactly sure how the music, which is generally broken into three separate suites, should be performed, given that the original score has been lost.

PICTURE: Edouard Hamman’s painting showing Handel (on the left) with King George I aboard a barge on 17th July, 1717. Via Wikipedia

 

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The V&A has reopened its ‘Europe 1600-1815’ galleries to the public this week following a major £12.5 million refurbishment. The seven transformed galleries, located close to the South Kensington museum’s grand entrance, tell the story of how France succeeded Italy as the “undisputed leader” of fashionable art and design in Europe in the late 17th century and how Europeans systematically “explored, exploited and collected” resources from Africa, Asia and the Americas. Featuring more than 1,100 objects, the galleries – redesigned in conjunction with architectural practice ZMMA – include four V&A2large rooms introducing the story of Europe across the period and three smaller rooms focusing on specific activities – ‘collecting in the Cabinet’, ‘enlightened thought in the Salon’, and ‘entertainment and glamour in the Masquerade’. Objects on display include a highly ornate Rococo writing cabinet made from Augustus III (on show for the first time since it has undergone a conservation work), a newly conserved 18th century bed from the Parisian workshop of George Jacob – furniture maker to Napoleon, a 17th century Venetian table by Lucio de Lucci and Pierre-Denis Martin’s oil painting, The Visit of Louis XIV to the Chateau de V&A3Juvisy (both on show for the first time) as well as several large recently cleaned tapestries including the 1860s Gobelins tapestry, The infant Moses tramples on Pharoah’s crown. The display also includes three recreated period rooms – a 17th century French bedchamber, Madame de Sérilly’s cabinet and a mirrored room from 18th century Italy – while in the Salon can be found a contemporary installation, The Globe. A curved architectural sculpture, it is the creation of Havana-based artist collective Los Carpinteros and forms a “room within a room” within the ‘Salon’. It will be used for events and discussions. Entry to the galleries is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/europegalleries. PICTURES: David Grandorge/©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

On Now: A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón collection. This exhibition at the Leighton House Museum – former home of artist Frederic, Lord Leighton – features more than 50 works by leading Victorian artists, some of which are rarely exhibited. The paintings, which include six works by Leighton himself as well as works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais and John William Waterhouse, all form part of the collection of Mexican Juan Antonio Pérez Simón who has the largest private collection of Victorian art outside the UK. The highlight of the exhibition, however, is Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The Roses of Heliogabalus, being shown in London for the first time since 1913. Admission charge applies. The exhibition at the property on the edge of Holland Park runs until 6th April. For more, see www.leightonhouse.co.uk.

On Now: Handel’s Performers. This display of portraits and documents in The Foundling Museum’s Handel Gallery is a showcase of celebrities and singers who brought the work of composer George Frideric Handel’s work to the public in the 18th century. Among those depicted are Anastasia Robinson and Senesino, among the highest paid singers of their time, Anna Maria Strada, a leading soprano, Gustavus Waltz, a bass singer who sang at the benefit performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Foundling Hospital in 1754, and John Hebden, who played in the orchestra during benefit performances of the Messiah in 1754 and 1758. Runs at the Bloomsbury museum until 1st May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.

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SerpentineThe month-long London Festival of Architecture is underway with this year’s theme ‘Work in Progress’. Highlights of this year’s programme – which includes 220 exhibitions, installations, talks and tours – include a discussion at this year’s Serpentine Gallery (pictured) by architects SelgasCano, access to development sites including Olympic Park, Goodman’s Fields, and Nine Elms, a London Transport Museum tour of London’s first skyscraper, an installation exploring the role of coffee shop as workspace by the Not to Scale Collective, and a Routemaster tour of the West End. For more, including a downloadable PDF of the programme, see www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org.

A series of  26 ‘sestudes’ – texts exactly 62 words long – are being displayed along with the objects that inspired them in a new exhibition, 26 Pairs of Eyes, at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. The sestudes have been written by the likes of former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion in a bid cast new light on the objects, which are all from the museum’s collection and which range from a pencil which once belonged to Hospital Secretary John Brownlow to George Frideric Handel’s will. The display, which opens today, is on show until 6th September. Meanwhile the museum is also hosting another exhibition, Lines of Beauty, which explores the tradition of decorative plasterwork including the restored Rococo splendour of the hospital’s Court Room (donated by William Wilton in the 1740s and saved when the Foundling Hospital building was demolished in the 1920s). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A new portrait of the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The work of Sean Henry, the painted bronze sculpture depicts a two-thirds life size Berners-Lee carrying the leather rucksack in which he keeps his laptop. It was commissioned to mark Sir Tim’s 60th birthday and is the gallery’s first commissioned portrait sculpture for seven years. On display in Room 40. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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• A new exhibition exploring German-born George Frideric Handel and his association with the royal family opens at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow to mark the 300th anniversary of the coronation of King George I. The museum says no composer has been more closely associated with the British monarchy than Handel, whose anthem Zadok the Priest has been performed at every coronation since King George II in 1727 and whose Water Music was performed on the River Thames during the Diamond Jubilee for Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. By George! Handel’s Music for Royal Occasions features treasures from the Gerald Coke Handel Collection and loans from the British Library, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and Westminster Abbey. Runs until 18th May. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A landmark exhibition of David Bailey photographs opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. Bailey’s Stardust – one of the gallery’s largest scale photographic exhibitions, it occupies most of the gallery’s ground floor – features more than 250 portraits including a new portrait of Kate Moss and previously unseen images from Bailey’s travels to the Naga Hills in India in 2012. There’s also rooms devoted to portraits of the Rolling Stones and Catherine Bailey, images from Bailey’s trip to Papua New Guinea in 1974 and from east Africa which Bailey visited in 1985 in support of Band Aid. Admission charge applies. Runs until 1st June. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

A new exhibition at the British Museum explores how six key artists redefined the notion of art in Germany in the Sixties and Seventies. Germany divided: Baselitz and his generation features some 90 works including some 45 by George Baselitz as well as works by Markus Lupertz, Blinky Palermo, AR Penck, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. Thirty-four of the works, including 17 by Baselitz, have been donated by Count Christian Duerckheim while a loan of some 60 additional works from the Duerckheim Collection makes up the rest of the exhibition. Runs in Room 90 until 31st August. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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Palaces aside, the Queen also owns a series of chapels – the Chapels Royal – in London which, although not as grand as Westminster Abbey, have each played an important role in the history of the monarchy. 

The term Chapel Royal originally referred to a group of priests and singers dedicated to serving the Sovereign’s personal spiritual needs and as such would follow the monarch around the country. It was in Stuart times that they became more settled establishments with the two main Chapels Royal – the Chapel Royal and the Queen’s Chapel – located in St James’s Palace.

• The Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. Constructed by King Henry VIII, the chapel was decorated by Hans Holbein the Younger in honor of the king’s (short) marriage to Anne of Cleves. Queen Mary I’s heart is said to be buried beneath the choir stalls and it was here that Queen Elizabeth I apparently prayed waiting for news of the progress of the Spanish Armada. King Charles I took the Sacrament of Holy Communion here before his execution in 1649 and the chapel was where Queen Victoria married Prince Albert (her marriage certificate still hangs on the wall). In more recent times, the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, was placed before the altar so family and friends could pay their respects before her 1997 funeral. Among the composers and organists associated with the chapel are Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. The chapel is not open to the public except for services.

• The Queen’s Chapel, St James’ Palace (pictured right). Now located outside the palace walls, this chapel was built by King James I for the Catholic Henrietta Maria, the bride of his son, then Prince Charles (later King Charles I). Designed by Inigo Jones, Grinling Gibbons and Sir Christopher Wren were also involved in its creation. The chapel was used by Henrietta Maria until the Civil War and later became the home of the Danish Church in London. The chapel is not open to the public except for services.For more on this chapel or the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, follow this link.

• The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy. Built in the Middle Ages to serve the now long gone Savoy Palace, London home of Count Peter of Savoy (uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence, the original building was destroyed in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. The current building, located in Savoy Hill, off the Strand, was built on the orders of King Henry VII in the late 15th and early 16th century to serve the hospital he founded on the site of the palace. The chapel since served many other congregations – including a German Lutheran congregation – but remains royal property via the Duchy of Lancaster, which is held in trust for the Sovereign and used to provide an income for the British monarch. It is officially the Chapel of the Royal Victorian Order. For more, see www.duchyoflancaster.co.uk/duties-of-the-duchy/the-queens-chapel-of-the-savoy/.

• Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace (pictured right). There has been a chapel here since the Knights Hospitallers occupied the site in the 13th century but it was Cardinal Wolsey who built the chapel to its present dimensions after acquiring the property in 1518. The current building, however, dates from the later ownership of King Henry VIII – Wolsey surrendered the property to him when he fell from favour – and further works in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many subsequent monarchs have worshipped here. The chapel, with its stunning ceiling, is open to the public when visiting Hampton Court Palace. For more, see www.chapelroyal.org. PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk

• The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London. Originally a parish church, this was incorporated into the walls of the Tower in the reign of King Henry III. It was subsequently rebuilt at least twice – in the reign of King Edward I and King Henry VIII – and is home to the graves of important personages executed at the Tower including Henry VIII’s one-time wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard as well as Jane Grey, the nine day queen, and Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. The chapel can be accessed during a Yeoman Warder’s tour of the Tower of London. For more, including details of an appeal for its restoration, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/stories/thechapelproject.

• Chapel Royal of St John the Evangelist, Tower of London. Located within the White Tower, this beautiful chapel – arguably the oldest church in London – dates back to the construction of the tower by King William the Conqueror the late 11th century and remains one of the best preserved examples of Anglo-Norman architecture in England. King Henry III added stained glass windows but for much of its later history the chapel was used for records storage. Tradition records that King Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York, was laid in state here following her death in childbirth and that it was here Queen Mary was betrothed by proxy to Philip of Spain. This can be visited as part of a visit to the Tower of London. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/Sightsandstories/Prisoners/Towers/ChapelofStJohns

For more on churches in London, check out Stephen Millar’s London’s City Churches
and Stephen Humphrey’s London’s Churches and Cathedrals: A Guide to London’s Most Historic Churches and Cathedrals, Leigh Hatt’s London’s 100 Best Churches: An Illustrated Guide or the Pevsner Architectural Guide London: City Churches.

First laid out in the mid 17th century, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, on the east bank of the Thames just south of Lambeth, rose in fame to become one of London’s leading public entertainment venues.

The gardens, initially known as New Spring Gardens, are believed to have opened around the time of the Restoration of 1660 on a site which had been formerly an estate owned by vintners John and Jane Vaux (Jane was apparently widowed).

Initially apparently no more than an ale-house with a garden attached, the gardens grew to span several acres and featured a central hub and long avenues for strolling. Admission was initially free with money made from food and drink sold there. Among the earliest recorded visitors to the gardens was John Evelyn in 1661, describing it as a “pretty contrived plantation” and diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote of a visit he made on 29th May, 1662 (he is known to have returned numerous times).

From 1729, the gardens came under ownership and management of John Tyers, entrepreneur, property developer and patron of the arts, and it was he who, until his death in 1767, oversaw the transformation of the area into an arts hotspot which included sculpture (in particular a fine statue of the composer Handel), music, painting and architecture. Thanks partly due to the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the gardens become the fashionable place to be seen.

The variety of entertainment on offer at the gardens – the name of which was only officially changed to Vauxhall Gardens in 1785 – grew substantially over the years: from concerts and fireworks displays to performances by tight rope walkers and lion tamers and even re-enactments of famous battles. The gardens became renowned as site for balloon ascents and, for its architecture – the number of buildings there grew over the years to include a rococo ‘Turkish tent’, Chinese pavilion, and, another rococo building, the Rotunda (where concerts could be held in wet weather). There was also a cascade and private ‘supper boxes’ for those who could afford them; those who couldn’t could dine at tables set under the trees.

From the outset, Vauxhall was known as a place where the sexes could mix freely and, therefore, for romantic assignations – in fact, one area of the gardens became known as the ‘Dark Walk’ for the fact it was, unlike other areas of the gardens, never illuminated by lamps and it was in this area, frequented by prostitutes, that many of the more illicit liaisons took place.

By the late 1700s and early 1800s, the gardens, one of a number of pleasure gardens in London, had reached the height of their popularity with reportedly more than 60,000 people said to have  attending a fancy dress party held one night in the late 1700s.

Those who attended events in the gardens included royalty as well as the likes of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell (see Thomas Rowlandson’s image above, Vauxhall Gardens, showing the likes of Johnson and Boswell, along with Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, and the future King George IV, at the gardens in about 1779) as well as, much later, Charles Dickens (by the time Dickens visited, however, the heyday of the gardens was already well over).

The gardens closed in 1859 due apparently to declining popularity and were eventually replaced with housing. After being badly bombed in World War II, however, the site once again returned to being a garden, known as Spring Gardens. The gardens (pictured) still occupy the site not far from Vauxhall tube station – part of them is used by the Vauxhall City Farm as paddocks for horses and livestock and they also contain a multi-use games court.

For an authoritative and comprehensive work on the Vauxhall Gardens, try David Coke and Dr Alan Borg’s Vauxhall Gardens: A History. There’s also much more information on David Coke’s website here. There’s also a detailed history here.

David Coke is curating an exhibition at The Foundling Museum, The Triumph of Pleasure, which looks at the way in which the gardens and the establishment of the Foundling Hospital in 1739 “changed the face of British art forever”. Runs from 11th May to 9th September. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

PICTURES: Wikipedia and David Adams

Still the address to have in London, the origins of the name Mayfair are just as they appear – this area to the west of the City was named for the annual May Fair which was held at what is now the trendy (and picturesque) cafe precinct of Shepherd Market during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The two week long annual fair was established by King James II as a cattle market on what was then known as Brookfield Market in the 1680s. Attracting other pleasure-related activities, it soon became known for its licentiousness and, having survived Queen Anne’s attempts to have it banned, was eventually stopped in the mid-1700s. Edward Shepherd, who today gives his name to the area on which Brookfield Market once stood, was an architect and developer who subsequently redeveloped the site.

These days Mayfair is generally taken to encompass an area bordered by Hyde Park to the west, Oxford Street to the north, Piccadilly to the south and Regent Street to the east. The area’s development really took off in the century following the mid 1600s (landowners included the Grosvenor family – whose name is reflected in landmarks like London’s third largest square Grosvenor Square and Grosvenor Chapel (pictured) – as well as the Berkeleys and Burlingtons) and it became a favored residential location among the wealthy – indeed, it was this very gentrification which indirectly put an end to the fair.

Today, as well as being known for high end residential real estate, it’s one of London’s most expensive shopping precincts. Landmark buildings in the area today include the hulking bulk of the US Embassy at the western end of Grosvenor Square, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, the Handel House Museum (located in what was the home of composer George Frideric Handel), shopping arcades such as the Burlington and Royal Arcades, and various luxury hotels like Claridge’s and The Dorchester in Park Lane.