300 Years Of Handel’s ‘Water Music’, With A Splash Of Politics : Deceptive Cadence : NPR

A portrait of George Frideric Handel, presenting his Water Music to King George I.

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Getty/Bettmann Archive

So what do you do if you’re a recently crowned Head of State and you’re already facing opposition—even from within your own family? One answer is optics. Make a big, public splash; throw a lavish party with A-list musical entertainment. That’s just what happened in London – 300 years ago today.

In July, 1717, King George I of England was feeling heat from an opposing political faction gathering around his son, the Prince of Wales. The King must have thought: “How can I turn the spotlight back on me?” What about a boating party along the Thames? With an orchestra!

The King’s boating blowout gave birth to a smash hit – Water Music, composed by George Frideric Handel for his majesty’s royal ride up the Thames.

“This was a new thing,” says conductor Nicholas McGegan, “to have quite such elegant and organized music in a barge towing behind the royal one, where the King sat with his two mistresses and watched the world go by.”

McGegan is marking the 300th anniversary of Water Music by conducting the piece at a dry dock in Hull, England later this week. The political intrigue behind the music is no surprise.

“The tradition in the Georgian household was to hate your children,” McGegan notes. “And that happened over generation over generation. So it was a big publicity deal for [King George] and another way of making his son look bad.”

The King got the publicity he wanted. Two days later, a London newspaper crowed:


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