Friday, September 16, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759)

Well certainly Handel is best known for composing the oratorio Messiah in 1741. As some might say, this one piece might have been enough to guarantee him a measure of immortality, … except that there's so much more that's just as good if not a whole lot better. Handel is I suppose somewhat underrated these days, after all his harmonies are square, his mannerisms antique, his style totally dated. Nevertheless there are in Handel tremendous contributions formulated in orchestral music, if not for the first time, at least by a competent enough master composer, out of which the formation of orchestras that in decades to come would trace their traditions back to him, especially in England where he made his notable success.

Here then is the first of the three suites Handel composed in 1717 for King George I, the so called Water Music. They were performed by a band of 50 musicians on the king's barge stationed out in the middle of the Thames and those who wished could observe and hear the music might do so from the shores. Similar suites were written by Handel for the king's fireworks. Each suite consists of dance movements, beginning with the pompous Overture intended to announce that the king was present, getting seated, paying attention, etc. The rest of the movements could feature dances, presentations, exchanges of gifts of various kinds. Handel was the composer in the mode of service to patronage and he accomplished his tasks well enough for his masters that by the usual standards, he did materially rather better than most.

The music itself though stylized to a higher degree than the music that followed it, baroque after all, reveals some striking instances of looking forward to the power of the extension of even the most quaint and strict harmonies in orchestral writing, the balances and exchanges between groups of instruments foreshadow future development.

I've chosen this version because I trust Pierre Boulez tastes here and the Hague Philharmonic plays it well.


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