Wedding Music: Handel Water Music

Handel’s Water Music for Your Special Day

If you want to add a Royal touch to your Wedding day, try using some music from Handel’s Water Music.

Here is a modern performance of this ancient music that tries to present it as it may have sounded in Handel’s day:

Handel’s Water Music is a Suite Deal!

Handel’s Water Music is a group of 21 pieces that are grouped into three suites or sets of music. The video above is of all three suites and lasts just about an hour.

George Frederick Handel (left) and King George I on the Royal Barge

George Frederick Handel (left) and King George I on the Royal Barge

Handel and his Water Music

George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) was, along with J.S. Bach (1685-1750), one the most important composers of the Baroque Era. The history of music is divided up into several eras. The Baroque Era lasted from roughly 1600 until the deaths of Bach and Handel in the mid-18th century.

Although Handel was born in what is now Germany he had his greatest successes during the many years that he lived in Great Britain where he settled in 1712. That is where he composed his most famous work — The Messiah — which was premiered in Dublin, Ireland in 1741.

Handel wrote his Water Music for King George I (1660-1727) when the King requested a concert to accompany one of his many Royal cruises. The preferred method of travel for the British Royalty in those days was by boat.

Royalty can bore very easily so Handel, who was a relative new comer at the time, used this Royal commission to write some sprightly out-door music to entertain the King and his Court as the Royal fleet made its way up the River Thames.

Floating up the River Thames on one of the royal barges, Handel’s Water Music was heard for the first time on July 17, 1717:

“The first performance of the Water Music suites is recorded in the Daily Courant, a London newspaper. At about 8 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 July, 1717, King George I and several aristocrats boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace for an excursion up the Thames toward Chelsea. The rising tide propelled the barge upstream without rowing. Another barge provided by the City of London contained about fifty 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 couver’d” with boats and barges. On arriving at Chelsea, the king left his barge, then returned to it at about 11 p.m. for the return trip. The king was so pleased with the Water Music that he ordered it to be repeated at least three times, both on the trip upstream to Chelsea and on the return, until he landed again at Whitehall.” Wikipedia

Handel’s Water Music: “Air”

For Weddings, there are two sections of Handel’s Water Music that are still very popular today. The first is the “Air”, the fifth selection from Water Music Suite No. 1 in F. The term “Air” is what composers during the Baroque used to designate compositions that are song-like and not dance-based or a march. Most of Handel’s Water Music is made up of fast dances and lively marches so this “Air” is somewhat slower and quieter than the rest of the Suite.

Here is the “Air” followed by two livelier dances (a “Minuet” (3:20) and a “Bouree” (5:18)) from the Water Music Suite No. 1 in F. This video gives a look at how this popular music came to be used in the ballrooms of the 18th Century.

Handel’s Water Music: “Hornpipe”

The other selection from Handel’s Handel’s Water Music that is still popular with today’s Brides is the “Hornpipe” which is No. 11 and ends Water Music Suite No. 1 in F. The people of the Baroque Era loved to dance. The music of this time is filled with dances from various sources. Hornpipes were originally crude “sailor’s dances”. Baroque composers like Handel adapted them for a more refined aristocratic audience:

Again, this video gives you a valuable glimpse of how Handel’s music was enjoyed in the ballrooms of the aristocracy during the 18th Century. The video begins with the “Hornpipe” which is followed by a “Menuet” (3:11) and “Rigaudon” (5:57)

The “Air” and “Hornpipe” for Your Wedding

Using Handel’s music for your Wedding is a great way to add a touch of tradition without using the usual Wagner and Mendelssohn marches.

Played a bit slower than the above dance recording — remember you are processing slowly down the aisle — the “Air” makes a wonderful entrance or Processional.

Of course, at the end of your Wedding Ceremony you are not expected to march down the aisle at such a slow pace. That is where the “Hornpipe” shines.

Both the “Air” and “Hornpipe” sound really good on the piano. If a pipe organ is available, it is possible to capture the Baroque sound of the original.

The “Air” played slowly on the piano:

The “Hornpipe” played with gusto on a really big pipe organ:

Patrick Byrne, Piano

I would love to work with you to help make your own Wedding or special event a truly beautiful experience for your family and friends.

For more information please go to my main Wedding Music page.