In 1717, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) German composer wrote the Water Music which is a collection of orchestral movements, often considered three suites. The concert was performed to serenade King George I of England and his party of royals as they floated on the Thames River. The music was played during a boating party and performed by 50 musicians playing on a barge near the royal barge from which the King listened with his close friends. The cruise included a plethora of immensely decorated barges, boats filled with spectators, as well as a firework show after the performance. The instruments featured flutes, bassoons, trumpets, horns, violins, and basses. Percussion was added later to the piece as it was not conducive for performing on a barge due to the whole rocking the boat issues.
In 1710, Handel became Kapellmeister (person in charge of music-making) to German prince George, before he moved to Italy. While in Italy, Handel composed operas and then he travelled to London where he performed for English royalty including Queen Anne the last Stuart monarch and King George I. In 1714, George became the elector of Hanover, the first Hanoverian king of Great Britain, a British monarch from the House of Hanover, the dynasty which ruled the United Kingdom till the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. George remained unpopular in England throughout his life, partly because of his inability to speak English but also because of the perceived greed of his mistresses and rumors concerning his treatment of his wife.
Prince of Wales George II was enjoying widespread popularity among the people of England, but the relationship with his father was strained after he made an insulting remark at a christening which lead to him being banished. The admired young George enjoyed throwing extravagant parties, and he took a widely publicized tour through southern England, and even allowed commoners to see him dine in public (a very modern view). Getting Handel to perform this symphony may have been an attempt by George I to win back the people’s hearts, and also a way to prevent his son from sitting on the throne. Handel was bothered over the ascension of his former boss to the British throne, because he had abandoned his Kapellmeister post for a better life, and Handel felt compelled by guilt to offer the Water Music as an olive branch to the new King George I. The King knew that this would be a great way for him to relate to his new subjects, so he instituted that the barge party would become an annual event on the Thames.
At 8pm on Wednesday, July 17, 1717, a most impressive public event was produced along the River Thames, as King George I and members of his court left Whitehall Palace and boarded a lavishly-decorated barge. The fifty plus musicians were stationed on another nearby barge under the leadership of George Frideric Handel. The Barges were driven by the tide (no need for rowing), as this fine Symphony was specifically composed expressly for this occasion, by Mr. Handel. As the tide rose, it took both barges upstream, displaying the grandeur of the royal court to thousands of Londoners who had gathered along the banks to catch a glimpse of the procession. The river was crowded barges and people that all wanted to see the extravagant display and hear Handel’s newly-composed Water Music.
The music written to entertain English royalty and other Persons of Quality that were spending a summer eve on a party-barge on the Thames, frolicking in the cool air until the small hours was an instant hit. The musicians continued to perform the movements of Handel’s new work continually throughout the three hour trip to Chelsea and the return trip after dinner, and it is said that the king enjoyed the music so much that he ordered it to be played again each time it concluded. Water Music is a work as unique as the circumstances of its premiere. In those days before modern amplification technology, there was no way that a normal-sized orchestra could be heard in such a venue, so Handel scored the work for an enormous ensemble by contemporary standards. The work itself seems to have consisted of over twenty movements lasting more than an hour, however, this version of the score was never published. Handel was able to fuse the lyrical enthusiasm of Italian serious opera, the snappy courtliness of the French overture, and the harmonic complexity of the German Baroque and Water Music became Handel’s best-known instrumental work.