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Handel - Suites Nos. 2 and 3 from Water Music

By Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: flute (doubles recorder), 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, continuo, strings.

Duration: Suite No. 2 – 12 minutes in five movements; Suite 3 – 11 minutes in seven movements


George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Many of the great works of music history have equally great stories attached to them. A few of them are actually true but in some cases, exaggeration and outright fabrication stain the narrative with pseudo-facts that are difficult to disprove. Handel’s famous Water Music suites are encumbered with just such a story. Though this story does not seem to include lies per se, it does appear to have been the product of some measure of invention. The legend states that Handel was chagrined over the ascension of his former boss to the British throne. He had previously jilted this employer (then the Elector of Hanover) for a better life in London under Queen Anne and when Anne passed, Handel was compelled by guilt to offer the Water Music as an olive branch to the new King George I. The King, having problems of his own relating to his new subjects, instituted an annual “barge party” on the Thames and it was during one of these celebrations that the Water Music was premiered. It is indeed a great story but, according to many serious Handel scholars, the majority of it is unlikely.