Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Handel: Water Music

Handel has unfortunately fallen out of favor among classical music fans in the modern era. Beyond the Messiah (his most famous oratorio), Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks, his music isn't well-known or widely performed today.
Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert Orchestra
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Water Music

Polydor, 1983
But this composer was treasured during his day in his adopted homeland of England, and his output was massive, encompassing 29 oratorios, 42 operas, more than a hundred cantatas, and countless other works of chamber music.

If I were in "CD buying mode" rather than "listening to the CDs I already own" mode, I'd probably purchase recordings of some of Handel's oratorios, or some of his suites for keyboard and harpsichord. But for now I'll have to settle for a careful listen to today's recording, Water Music, which is Handel's second best-known work after the Messiah.

Some brief listener notes:

1) The exact recording I have listed above (the Trevor Pinnock/English Concert Orchestra recording) is available on Amazon, and it's likely one of the most well known and popular recordings of this work. I recommend it, despite the fact that it's performed on period instruments. I'll write more on the "period instrument controversy" at a later time.

2) We've talked before about how listening to classical music, especially long-form symphonic works, can involve a non-trivial investment in time for anyone with a job and a busy family life. Ironically, Handel's Water Music, with most movements clocking in at anywhere from two to four minutes, fits perfectly with the habits of the modern popular music listener. Perhaps today's work can be a good way for you to break into classical music before you try and tackle longer symphonic works. Trust me, it will be worth it!

3) If you're new to this work, have an extra listen to the third and fifth movements (tracks 3 and 5), as well as track 11. These are the most familiar and recognizable movements in Water Music.

4) In track 7 of the Trevor Pinnock recording (the Bouree), listen closely from about the 0:40 mark when the strings hand the melody over to the woodwinds, which then take over until the strings return at about the 1:20 mark. See if you can hear the clacking of the woodwinds' keys as they play! There are instances throughout the entire CD where you can hear this (see for example from 0:51 in track 8), but this is one of the more pronounced examples. Dumb period instruments.

5) Forgive me for saying this, but whenever I listen to this Water Music, I can't help but think of Weird Al Yankovic spending every weekend at the Renaissance Fair (...with his name on his underwear of course). I hope my saying that doesn't permanently ruin this piece for you.

6) Finally, I have Amazon links below to four highly regarded recordings of Handel's music. If you are considering purchasing CDs or MP3s of his music, I'd recommend any of the links below. As always, when you buy products from Amazon via links on this blog, I receive a small affiliate fee--think of it as my tip jar.


Chip said...

I couldn't agree more...

Handel is really under appreciated. He didn't even consider Messiah to be his best Oratorio - and his operas are never done.

Daniel Koontz said...

Hi Chip, thanks for your comment. I'll have to pick a couple Handel oratorios and cover them in this blog then. It might be a while, but I'll get to it!

Thanks for reading,