Home   |   About Me   |   Contents   |   Contact   |   Links   |   Acknowledgements   |   Subscribe

15 July 2017

24. Against the muddy tide

SOURCE:  scan of Dirk Stoop's engraving Aqua Triumphalis (Aug. 23, 1662, preceding the wedding of Charles II) at the National Maritime Museum; available at http://www.historyextra.com/river
Images like the one above are a healthy reminder to me that George I was not the first to have elaborate festivities on the Thames.  And yet the date that will always be most associated with such water parties must surely be 17 July 1717the impending tercentenary of which I simply must mark with this post.  As musical water parties are known to have happened in each of the three preceding summers, the eye-catching 7/17/1717 date may not be the first performance of Handels Water Music, but it is the earliest documented performanceand it is very well documented indeed.

Water Music fits into a long tradition of music for a social occasion; but as a musical structure itself, the work is shockingly innovativean orchestral piece of unprecedented length and variety.  Are there any predecessors to rival it?  In a way, Water Music represents the first maturity of the orchestraand, maybe except for occasional performances of Corelli concerti grossi, it must be the earliest music that can be said to fit into the established orchestra repertoire.  While modern symphony orchestras have largely abandoned the Baroque, edged-out by their HIP rivals, Water Music is still performed by all sorts of ensembles, and seems to be a perennial crowd-pleaser.  New recordings (and cheap reissues of old ones) emerge year after year, and twice in recent years (2003 and 2012) there have been conspicuous performances on the Thames itselfconspicuous enough for me to have noticed, anyway.
SOURCE:  Daily Mail image of the 3 June 2012 Jubilee flotilla on the Thames; the Academy of Ancient Music website has some entertaining videos concerning their part of the festivities.

Probably the work seldom gets performed intact.  The 22 movements that comprise what we call Water Music do not cohere in any traditional pattern, and that has caused problems for Handel scholars in the past.  Lacking an autograph, it was assumed that the strange sequence of movements indicated that something had been garbled in transmission.  Here is a handy index from Christopher Hogwood’s Cambridge Music Handbook:

SOURCE:  cropped scan of pp. 18-19 of Handel:  Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks (2005)
As indicated by the catalogue numbers of the Handel Werke Verzeichnis (HWV), Water Music has been allotted three entriesthe movements in F (and two in D minor) are HWV 348; those in D major are HWV 349; and those in G major/minor are HWV 350.  HWV thus presents three suites together making up a larger collected work.  Lacking any further evidence, this division would be wholly reasonableand it is more practical in performance, as each suite is unified not only by key but by instrumentation (with trumpets appearing only in the movements on HWV 349, and no brass at all in HWV 350, which instead features flute and recorder).  The idea that the conglomeration of movements that we think of as Handels Water Music actually comprise three separate works goes back to Handels time: some manuscript copies dating from the late 1730s and early 1740s, together with  the 1743 Walsh keyboard arrangement presents the movements grouped together into the three suites.  That sequence took over the received history, and thus the three catalogue numbers.  The work had appeared as three suites in the Hällische Händel Ausgabe (HHA) in 1962, and that imprimatur led to a myriad of recordings that present Water Music so allotted.  And it works:  I was at a concert not that long ago that had the F major suite at the beginning of the program, a smattering of Bach and Telemann in the middle, and the last two suites as the conclusion, the whole making a very satisfying musical experience.

SOURCE:  scan first page of score (f. 2) of 1718 ms.
in the library of the Royal Society of Musicians [no shelfmark];
scan from https://museums.eu/event/details/120375/handels-water-music
Given Handels default modus operandi, it would seem a little unusual if Water Music wasnt to some extent a thing of shreds and patches.  Terence Best points at the solo violins in the fugal section of the French overture, suggesting that that sort of writing would have been inaudible in the open air, and thus likely to have been retained (unthinkingly?) from some preëxisting work.  And yet, as Best is also at pains to point out, all of the earliest manuscript copies not only mix movements of the D and G suites together, but in fact they all preserve most or all of the 22 movements in very nearly the same order.  The 2004 discovery of the earliest known manuscript copy (datable to 1718 [and the first page is shown at right])which gives the 22 movements in precisely the same sequence as the first published full score (ed. Samuel Arnold in 1788), a sequence familiar to us because Arnolds edition was the primary source for Chrysanders in the old complete works volume (1886).  We do not know Arnolds source (although Best [p. 102] argues reasonably that it was indeed this source), but the newly-discovered copy is enough to verify that this sequence of movements was known within a year of the supposed 1717 premiere.  The HHA has thus now issued a new volume (2007, co-edited by Best and Hogwood) to supersede the old.  (This pair of editions would make an ideal topic for my series of moving targets, but I havent done sufficient homework comparing them to write that up yet.  Eventually.)

So what about that unusual sequence, now being restored to favor?  It is a curious hybrid of suite and concertante forms, and it doesnt even settle down to just one sort of suite.  It opens with a French overture, interrupted before a final cadence by a solo oboe number; following that is really an Italian overture (fast-slow-fast) featuring the horns; then a series of conventional dances or dance-like numbers (menuets, bourrée, hornpipe, Air).  After all the F major movements are done, there follows a d-minor number displaying Handels orchestrational technique at its most forward-lookingbut which is hardly either a closing or an opening to a suite.  Thereafter, in Hogwoods words,
From this point in the suite both the scoring and the changes of tonality become more varied, a strategy that seems designed to maintain attention through an hour-long performance—the length of time of a full act in an opera, but no other musical form to date.  [p. 35]
The brilliant brass writing that follows is closer to Handels (subsequent) concerti a due cori than to anything elsein other words concertante writing again  The remaining dances are diverse and diverting, but there is no conclusion as substantial as those of Telemanns Tafelmusik; the Trumpet Menuet that de facto brings the whole thing to a close seems perfunctory, and to my ear the weakest part of the whole set.

SOURCE:  discogs.com
Given his later scholarship on this work, I was curious to revisit Hogwood's own recording (1978).  It is inevitably a product of its time.  Hogwood not only followed the three suite model of the original HHA, but also interpolated two much later F-major reworkings of the two central D-major trumpet/horn numbers.  Wonderful music as these are, their inclusion here only muddies the textual waters.  And to confuse things further, Decca several times reissued only either the horn suite or the trumpet suite from these sessions.  Hogwoods dominance in the recording market place in the 1980s and 1990s has surely meant thatfor better or worsethese performances have played a large role in shaping our sense of the work.  (Or works?)  Im not even sure that it is a problem, but it is worth acknowledging.  (A similar issue came up in a post concerning Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.)

I tried an informal experiment for this post:  listening to a recording with the CD or MP3 player set on SHUFFLE, hoping to see if any resulting sequence of movements would be viable.  It wont, at least for me, but if we were to view the whole thing as a sort of compendium of music to keep the party going, a number of routes might work.  A crucial difference is to have a musical intelligence making the decision, rather than just a mechanical randomization.  In other words, it requires a deejay.