The Galaxy – The Joys of Handel

Portrait of George Frideric Handel composing n...

George Frideric Handel, portrait by Phillip Mercier (Image via Wikipedia)

It is hard for me to imagine any music as serene and relaxing to me as the music of George Frideric Handel.  If the works of Bach, Handel’s contemporary (they were both born in 1685), can be compared to a fine steak, then Handel’s is like a fine lobster.  Of course, I’m not the only one who would have said such a thing.  Beethoven is reputed to have said of Handel, “[Handel was] the master of us all… the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb.”  That is high praise, coming from Beethoven.

So, to observe Handel’s birthday on February 23rd, we start with a harpsichord piece, the Suite in B-flat Major, HWV 434.  The piece may date from as early as 1710, although he may possibly have brought it with him when he left Germany that year.  This piece is notable for the two sections that pop up elsewhere: the minuet that he recycled for use in the third Water Music suites, and the aria that Johannes Brahms chose as the root for his Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24.  Just as this suite has lent itself to other works, it itself has its origins in an earlier work, the Sinfonia in B-flat Major, HWV 339.

We then went to one of Handel’s great works (one of many of his compositions that can be categorized as “great”), his set of three Water Music Suites.  These suites were premiered on 17 July 1717, after the English King George I, who had been Handel’s employer while he was the Elector of Hanover, requested a concert on the River Thames.  As the performance was to be on barges, the music was scored for an orchestra without timpani or harpsichord, as those instruments would have been difficult to transport.  The orchestration is heavy on wind instruments, and the larger orchestra works better for performance outdoors, as the sound of the stringed instruments does not carry as well; there is a separate arrangement for a smaller orchestra that would be unsuitable for outdoors performance.  While the smaller pieces that make up the Water Music is generally divided into the aforementioned three suites, there is some scholarly research that suggests that the order of the pieces is inconsequential, in that the slower pieces may have been played when the King’s boat and the Orchestra’s barge were closer together, while faster pieces may have been played when the boats were farther apart.  The edition published by Friedrich Chrysander mingles the sections of the D Major and G Major suites together.



3 comments on “The Galaxy – The Joys of Handel

  1. Thanks for helping me get a grip on Handel!

  2. […] The Galaxy – The Joys of Handel ( […]

  3. Dana Newton says:

    My son has an autism spectrum disorder and prefers Handel every evening while he tries to go to sleep. He has listened to many classical artists over the years, but prefers “Water Music.” very soothing and calming, especially after an Epsom Salts bath.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s