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Handel’s Water Music – 300 Years in the Charts

July 17th 2017 marks the 300th anniversary of the first performance of Handel’s famous Water Music. The orchestral suites were written for a party on the Thames river in London, held by King George I, in 1717.

 

The music consists of the Suite in F major (HWV 348), Suite in D major (HWV 349) and Suite in G major (HWV 350). However, although many of the pieces became instant hits throughout London, none of them were published at the time. Extensive research by Samuel Arnold led to a 1788 edition of nineteen pieces that is generally accepted as the authoritative Water Music, but the original structure is unclear.

One of the best-known and most frequently performed movements is the Alla Hornpipe from the D major suite:

George Frideric Handel is known today for many compositions, and for his role as a court composer. Born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, he is one of the foremost composers of the Baroque era.

But he should never have been a composer in the first place.

Handel was born at a time when music and the arts flourished only in the highest echelons of society. His grandfather was a coppersmith, his grandmother was the daughter of a coppersmith. Handel’s own father was a barber, and his mother was the daughter of a Lutheran minister. Handel went to the gymnasium school in Halle. A gymnasium in the German education system is a selective school for the gifted. The headmaster at the school Johann Praetorius, was passionate about music, but many of Handel’s biographers record that he was withdrawn from the school because his father was implacably opposed to music education.

In fact, Georg Handel was alarmed by his son’s interest in music that he took every step to oppose it, even banning musical instruments in the house and forbidding Handel from visiting any house where they might be found. There is a story that Handel found a way to sneak a small clavichord into the attic of the house, and he would steal away to play it when the family were asleep. This tale is unsubstantiated, but for the fact that Handel was able to play the keyboard well enough to come to the notice of Duke Johann Adolf, who on hearing Handel play the church organ, persuaded his father to let him have music lessons.

 It’s quite incredible given this unpromising start that Handel is still a household name.

His Water Music was written for King George I of England. It consists of three orchestral suites, and was first performed on barges on the Thames. Its first performance as an integral part of a massive Royal shindig, was reported in Britain’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant.

The party was possibly an attempt by King George to win popularity (for various reasons, including a serious economic crisis in 1720, his refusal or inability to learn English and rumours about the treatment of his wife, the King was not well liked), and he turned to Handel to help him impress.

In 1710, Handel had worked as Kapellmeister to the German Prince George; the same Prince George who in 1714 became King of Great Britain and Ireland. Handel had left Germany to settle in England full time, which had angered Prince George at the time.

However, the Water Music is said to have allowed a reconciliation between King George and Handel. It was rumoured that the success of the music enabled the King to regain some of the London spotlight back from his son, Prince George, who was throwing lavish parties and dinners. The Prince did not get on with his father – a resentment that possibly began when King George dissolved his marriage to the young George’s mother due to ‘abandonment’, which meant that the children never saw their mother again (though the King did his best to ensure that his son had more choice when he was himself to be married).

The Courant records that at about 8pm on Wednesday, July 17th 1717, King George I boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace, along with several aristocrats, for an excursion up the Thames towards Chelsea.

A second barge, provided by the City of London, carried around 50 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.

The king enjoyed the music so much, he asked the musicians to play the suites at least three times over the course of the trip, both on the way up to Chelsea and on the return journey, with the orchestra playing from around 8pm until well after midnight.

In 2009 the BBC aired a documentary showing an ambitious reconstruction of the performance, with the Water Music played by musicians of the English Consort in full period costume.


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The Best of the Guest

As we regroup for the start of the new term and a new academic year, we thought it would be interesting to look back over some of our recent guest blogs. This year we’ve been privileged to be able to share forward-looking contributions and ideas from exam board AQA, the ROH Bridge Project, Alex Stevens of Rhinegold Publishing and Handel and Hendrix in London among many others. Our guest bloggers continue to inform and inspire, enriching our view of music education.

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Updates from AQA

In July 2016, Sarah Perryman, Music Qualifications Developer at AQA, wrote for us, sharing the many updates and new online resources in the run up to the first year teaching the revised music A and AS Levels and GCSEs. These resources are relevant whether or not you teach with AQA, and are a great way to develop your students’ understanding of the subject. If you’d like some ideas to help with your new-term lesson planning, check out Sarah’s blog here>> 

Handel and Hendrix

One exciting musical highlight of the upcoming term is October’s Black History Month – carte blanche to explore many wonderful genres of music and outstanding musicians from African, African-American and Caribbean cultures. Jimi Hendrix was one such influential African-American musician, and a new exhibition celebrating his life opened in February 2016.

6. The main room of 23 Brook Street

Hendrix, known as one of the greatest instrumentalists in rock history, was inspired by Rock and Roll and electric blues genres, and he influenced other iconic musicians such as Prince. The London flat where he lived in 1966 is directly next door to Handel House, motivating Handel House Museum to develop an exploration of the two musicians, separated by only one wall and 200 years of history. Check out the guest blog and the learning resources at Handel Hendrix for inspiration.

Shakespeare Anniversary

Another fascinating window on society was provided by historic performance specialist, Emily Baines, in a blog celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of playwright, William Shakespeare.

The music and stage directions in Shakespeare’s plays offer an opportunity to creatively explore ideas of drama in music and how music reflects society and current affairs. Have a look at Emily’s blog here >>

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The Rhinegold Music Education Expo

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We were lucky enough to hear from Rhinegold’s Alex Stevens in the run up to the 2016 Music Education Expo. Alex gave us some insight into the planning of one of the UK’s biggest Music Education events. Visit the 2017 website to register for the next Expo, which will take place on February 9th and 10th 2017.

Other Highlights, valuable for students on their journeys forward, included advice from Martin Lumsden of Cream Room Recording Studios on making an album, and a detailed look at the BA(Hons) Music Industry Management degree at the University of Hertfordshire with MWC’s Maria Thomas

We’d like to thank all of the contributors to our guest blog so far and look forward to sharing some new, exciting posts with you in the new school year! And if you’re involved in music education and would be interested in writing a blog for us, we’d be delighted to hear from you. 

 

 

Learning at Handel & Hendrix in London

On February 10th, 2016, The Handel House Trust opened a new exhibit to the public – the London flat directly next door to Handel House, where singer, songwriter and guitarist Jimi Hendrix lived for a brief time during the late 60’s. Claire Davies, Head of Learning and Participation at Handel and Hendrix in London, shares her passion for the two great musicians…

“Separated by a wall and 200 years are the homes of George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix, two artists who chose London and changed music. And now these special rooms are open to the public as Handel & Hendrix in London.

We are an organisation dedicated to promoting knowledge, awareness and enjoyment of Handel, Hendrix and their music to as wide an audience as possible through music performances, educational and outreach activities and collecting, exhibiting and interpreting objects from their lives. As the Head of Learning and Participation, I get the privilege of facilitating these activities and one of my favourite parts of this job is organising school workshops.

The rich history enveloped in the walls of these two great properties is at the epicentre of all our activities and the lives of our two famous residents whilst they lived here are fascinating.

Although Handel was born in Germany in 1685, by the time he died in 1759 he was a famous Londoner. He moved into 25 Brook Street in 1723 at the age of 38 and stayed here for the rest of his life. This was Handel’s first home of his own and he wrote over 600 pieces of music here. It was a great location for Handel’s work because it was close to the theatres in Covent Garden and Soho and to the Royal Family at St. James’s Palace. Brook Street was both residential and commercial with perfumers and apothecaries, gin shops and coffee houses near-by. Handel’s neighbours included a mixture of middle-class tradesmen and titled ‘people of quality’.

Hendrix was born in America in 1942. In 1966, at the age of 23, he was scouted and brought over to London by Chas Chandler, a member of the British band, The Animals. In London Hendrix, with Chandler as his manager, set up a band called the Experience and his career took off. In 1968 he moved into the top flop flat at 23 Brook Street and lived there until March 1969 with his then girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham. After a tumultuous childhood, a stint in the army and years of touring, this year in Hendrix’s life was his first and only period of real domesticity. He referred to 23 Brook Street as ‘the first real home of my own’.

6. The main room of 23 Brook Street

Hendrix used the flat as his base, giving interviews, writing new songs, and preparing for his February concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. On learning that Handel used to live next door he went with Etchingham to the HMV on Oxford Street and bought some classical albums including Handel’s Messiah and Water Music. Brook Street was the doorstep to the London music scene of the late 1960s. His flat was a short stroll from legendary venues like the Marquee, the Speakeasy and The Scotch of St James and he would spend many evenings wandering from club to club looking for a chance to play.

Today these great homes have been faithfully restored; it’s like stepping into the private and intimate worlds of two great geniuses. Handel House opened its doors in 2001 and it wasn’t until February 2016 that the Hendrix Flat was opened to join forces with its neighbour.

In conjunction with the opening we have created lots of new learning programmes including a new series of workshops for schools. We were concerned about how to create workshops that include both the music and lives of Handel and Hendrix in one sitting without them competing against one another. Our solution was to create a musical time machine that takes the students back in time as newspaper journalists who have to experience the London lives of both Handel and Hendrix in sequence looking at the differences a similarities of two time periods that are 200 years apart. The crucial part of this is that they end up back in the present with the prompt to think about the differences and similarities between the 18th century, the 1960s and the present day. This is skilfully aided by our in-house composers who, during the time travel journey, deconstruct the music of both men to show layers of composition technique that relate to the way that music is composed today.

The session is split into two halves: a trip around the historic rooms with our history buffs and a musical workshop with our composers where all of their investigations and observations of music from the past are brought together to create a brand new composition of their own. The trip around the buildings start with a look at objects and costumes and every child is encouraged to choose a piece of costume to wear as they walk around the rooms; it’s an eclectic sight of colour and texture! There is a focus on the differences and similarities between Handel’s bedroom with Hendrix’s bedroom and the children’s bedrooms at home to really hone in on our main objective of empathy.

The programme has been adapted to all learning key stages but we tailor make the content to make it as relevant as possible to what the students are learning at school. For older year groups, such as GCSE and A Level groups, we work with the students on specific set works, whether it be a 1960s pop song or a baroque chorus to aid them in their exam preparations.

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With the money kindly donated to us from the Heritage Lottery Fund to open the Hendrix Flat, we were able to build a new learning space with an interactive screen and sound proofing so we can make as much noise as possible! Students also get the benefit of opening up a harpsichord to see how it works, to have a go on an electric guitar, see copies of Handel’s manuscripts and see a 1960s record player in action. With all of these fun and engaging resources both school groups and the learning team end up having lots of fun.”

To find out more about the work at Handel and Hendrix, and to see a selection of learning resources on offer, visit the website at www.handelhendrix.org/learn

 

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