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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• 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.

Send all items of interest for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Canaletto’s image of Greenwich Hospital from the north bank of the Thames (1750-52) is among almost 400 paintings, manuscripts and objects selected to be part of the National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition, Royal River: Power, Pageantry & The Thames.

Curated by historian David Starkey, the exhibition, part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, focuses on the use of the river across five centuries covering events including Anne Boleyn’s coronation procession and Admiral Lord Nelson’s stately funeral through to the evolving Lord Mayor’s pageant and the ‘Great Stink’ of the mid-1800s.

Highlights include the oldest known copy of Handel’s Water Music, the sixteenth century Pearl Sword (which the monarch must touch on entering the City of London), a stuffed swan, treasures from the City’s livery companies, and another Canaletto work – this time his famous view of the river filled with boats getting ready for the Lord Mayor’s Day, seen as an inspiration for this year’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant and on show in the UK for the first time since its completion.

As well as celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, the exhibition also marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the National Maritime Museum by King George VI on 27th April, 1937. The king’s speech from that day and his Admiral of the Fleet uniform also feature in the exhibition.

WHERE: National Maritime Museum Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark); WHEN: Daily 10am to 5pm (opening times may vary during the Paralympic and Olympic Games) until 9th September; COST: £11 adult/£9 concession/family ticket £24.50; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk.

PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London