Water Music is a collection of orchestral movements, often published as three suites, composed by George Frederic Handel. It premiered on 17 July 1717 after King George I had requested a concert on the River Thames.
The first performance of the Water Music suites is recorded in the Daily Courant, a London newspaper. At about 8 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 July 1717, King George I and several aristocrats boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace for an excursion up the Thames toward Chelsea. The rising tide propelled the barge upstream without rowing. Another barge provided by the City of London contained about fifty musicians who performed Handel’s music. Many other Londoners also took to the river to hear the concert. According to the Courant, “the whole River in a manner was covered” with boats and barges.
On arriving at Chelsea, the king left his barge, then returned to it at about 11 p.m. for the return trip. The king was so pleased with the Water Music that he ordered it to be repeated at least three times, both on the trip upstream to Chelsea and on the return until he landed again at Whitehall. Handel’s orchestra is believed to have performed from about 8 p.m. until well after midnight, with only one break while the king went ashore at Chelsea. The Water Music’s first performance on the water was the King’s way of reminding London that he was still there and showing he could carry out gestures of even more grandeur than his son.
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