July 17, 1717: Water Music by George Frideric Handel has its premiere performance. The work is made of a collection of orchestral movements which are often published as three suites. The first suite, written in F major, opens with a French overture and has eleven sections. The second suite was written in D major and the third in G major. Each of the latter suites contain five sections. There is no set order for the music to be played within the suite and variations are common. Handel, born in the Holy Roman Empire in 1685 was a favorite of British King George I who was also born in the Holy Roman Empire. Future king and composer met while they both were living on the continent and Handel worked for then Elector of Hanover and future King of England. Handel moved to London during the reign of Queen Anne.
George was made king after the death of Queen Anne on August 1, 1714. Bad weather kept him from making his way to England until September 18 and when he was crowned on October 20, there was rioting in more than twenty English towns. George spent much of his reign traveling back and forth to Hanover. George’s son and heir to the throne, also named George, was worried that his own reign might be cut short since his father was living into his old age. The younger George was often in the spotlight, famous for his lavish parties. The King, in order to remind London he was still around and still able to outdo his son, threw a unique premiere for Handel’s concert. It was held on the River Thames.
On a Wednesday evening, the King and several aristocratic and distinguished guests came aboard the royal barge at Whitehall Palace. Since the Thames is a tidal river, the tide coming in allowed for the barge to sail upriver towards Chelsea without rowing. A second barge was provided by the City of London and on this barge, about fifty musicians were placed so they might give this premiere performance of Water Music while actually sailing on the water. The river was full of other boat traffic as Londoners sailed along and were given a free concert, a gift from the King. While in Chelsea, the King left the barge and went ashore for some time and returned to his boat around 11 PM.
King George I was said to have been so pleased with the music that he ordered it to be repeated at least three times. The music accompanied him on his return trip to Whitehall Palace and the musicians’ only break came when the royal personage was off his barge in Chelsea. They finally arrived back at the palace well after midnight. The 1717 London crowd was not the only appreciative audience. Parts of the music have been used in popular culture. The work has been used for background music or in advertising, notably in commercials for the privatization of UK water companies. Walt Disney also used it as background music for the Electrical Water Pageant, a parade of sea creature at the Magic Kingdom. The music was also played in some scenes of Dead Poets Society.
It is much too good for them, they don’t know what to do with it. – comment on ‘borrowing‘ others music
I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.
You have taken far too much trouble over your opera. Here in England that is mere waste of time. What the English like is something that they can beat time to, something that hits them straight on the drum of the ear.
Every Englishman believes that Handel now occupies an important position in heaven. If so, le bon Dieu must feel toward him very much as Louis Treize felt toward Richelieu. – all from George Frideric Handel
Also on this day: Whoops! – In 1939, Douglas Corrigan took off in the wrong direction.
M-I-C-K-E-Y – In 1955, Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California.
Five and Dime – In 1997, Woolworth closed.
Martyrs of Compiegne – In 1794, sixteen women were killed as the Reign of Terror was winding down.
RMS Carpathia – In 1918, the ship sunk.