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Handel: Water Music & Fireworks music

The Finnish Baroque Orchestra combines Handel's festive suites with traditional Finnish works.

Among George Frideric Handel's many famous hits, these two stand out: the »Water Music« and the »Fireworks Music«, both written during his London years for open-air performance to commissions from King George I and George II respectively. But in the concert hall too, these splendid works show to full effect their magnificent wind fanfares, elegant rhythms and numerous catchy melodies – especially when performed on original instruments by an ensemble like the Finnish Baroque Orchestra.

 

»Many famous notes, winged words of music history, and yet eternally glittering and moving and touching for each individual mind – this is the brightness of Handel's supra-individual music.«

Jens Jessen (Die Zeit)

 

In this concert, the FiBO mixes Handel's suites with arrangements of traditional Finnish works by Viljami Niittykoskis (1895–1985), who rendered outstanding services to the folk music of his native country.

The »Elbphilharmonie Summer« is supported by Porsche.

Finnish Baroque Orchestra Finnish Baroque Orchestra © Juuso Westerlund

Performers

Finnish Baroque Orchestra

Programme

Georg Friedrich Händel (1685–1759)
Suite Nr. 2 D-Dur HWV 349 »Water Music« (1717)

Viljami Niittykoski (1895–1985)
Kesän muisto (Erinnerung an den Sommer) / Bearbeitung von Timo Alakotila
Kaustislainen marssi (Marsch aus Kaustinen) / Bearbeitung von Kreeta-Maria Kentala

Georg Friedrich Händel
Suite Nr. 1 F-Dur HWV 348 »Water Music« (1717)


– Pause –


Georg Friedrich Händel
Suite Nr. 3 G-Dur HWV 350 »Water Music« (1717)
 
Viljami Niittykoski

Tunnelmasta toiseen (Von einer Stimmung zur anderen) / Bearbeitung von Iikka Kotaja
Vauhdin hurmaa (Mit vollem Schwung) / Bearbeitung von Lauri Pulakka

Georg Friedrich Händel
Music for the Royal Fireworks (Feuerwerksmusik) HWV 351 (1749)

The Music

Water and music seem to exercise a strong mutual attraction, as shown by the Elbphilharmonie and many other concert halls all over the world situated on rivers and lakes. And a glance at music history yields a whole number of other works with water as their subject. Among them: Mendelssohn's mercurial concert overture »The Hebrides«, Smetana's famous »Moldau« from the symphonic cycle »Ma Vlast« (My Fatherland), Debussy's classic piece of Impressionism »La Mer«, and last but definitely  not least, that wonderful piece of kitsch from the pen of Johann Strauss, the »Blue Danube« waltz. But the best-known piece of water music is in all likelihood the »Water Music« by Handel.

Georg Friedrich Händel (Gemälde von Balthasar Denner, 1727)
Handel in 1727 (painting by Balthasar Denner) © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Water Music :A trip along the Thames

The work owes its title not to the sound of splashing water, but to the occasion it was written for. Handel wrote the »Water Music« in 1717 to a commission from King George I, who ordered a set of music to be performed outside as background for a boat trip on the Thames. Handel had settled in London five years earlier, in 1712, after he had previously achieved his breakthrough here in Hamburg with his first opera »Almira« at the Gänsemarkt Opera House, and had then gone on to win international renown in Italy under the nickname »Il Sassone« (the Saxon). Now he established himself on the fiercely contested music market in what was probably Europe's most exciting cultural centre: London.

Businessman and marketing genius

George Frideric Handel, wie ihn die Engländer nannten, entpuppte sich dabei nicht nur als fleißiger Komponist (insgesamt stammen 42 Opern aus seiner Feder), sondern auch als cleverer Geschäftsmann und als Marketing-Genie. Sein legendärer Appetit und sein stattlicher Leibesumfang dürfen durchaus als Beweis seines Erfolgs gewertet werden. Auf dem Höhepunkt seines Schaffens war Händel schließlich ein freier Künstler und musste sich nicht mehr – wie viele seiner Kollegen – den »ästhetischen Vorlieben eines absolutistischen Herrschers oder den dogmatischen Forderungen einer geistlichen Obrigkeit« (Hans Joachim Marx) beugen. Doch klar, wenn die Bezahlung stimmte, nahm auch Händel Zuwendungen dieser Art nur zu gern entgegen – und stellte sich voll und ganz auf die Wünsche seiner Auftraggeber ein.

The Thames and the City: Gemälde von Canaletto, 18. Jh.
Händels Wirkungsstätte London (The Thames and the City: Gemälde von Canaletto, 18. Jh.) © National Gallery Prague

Horns and trumpets

For the »Water Music«, for example, the orchestra was required to follow the Royal barque in a barge of its own, so that Handel's score had to take not only the occasion per se, but also the performing circumstances into account. The composer responded with horns and trumpets to provide a particularly festive sound. Moreover, these brass instruments were loud enough for use in outdoor performance, so that they alternate throughout the work, and are also accompanied by what was a pretty large body of strings at the time. Handel did not include a harpsichord at first, as it would have been difficult to play on a boat. But in today's concert performances, a harpsichord is generally added as support for the continuo group, and timpani are also included as a rule.

21 Dances

The »Water Music« consists of 21 dance movements preceded by an overture, and nowadays these movements are usually broken up into three suites. The music is rich in variety and catchy tunes, placing it among the best-known and most frequently-performed of Handel's works. Over 300 years ago, George I was so taken with the »Water Music« that he had the entire work as well as individual movements played again right after the premiere.

Georg Friedrich Händel: Wassermusik
Feuerwerk: Handkolorierte Radierung von © Unbekannt

The Fireworks Music :Music for peacetime with military instruments

Handel's »Fireworks Music« was likewise commissioned by a king, who bore the same name as his predecessor: King George II. He commissioned Handel to write a piece of festive music to accompany a fireworks display marking the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 1748, expressing the wish that the orchestra »should consist solely of military instruments«, i.e. of wind instruments alone. Handel reluctantly agreed to this proviso, but later composed additional string parts that were first performed at a charity concert, and have remained customary at concert performances to this day.

Several things went wrong at the first performance of the »Music for the Royal Fireworks« (thus the original title) in London's Green Park on 27 April 1749. The stage that had been specialially constructed for the occasion caught fire, the coordination of the music and the fireworks didn't work, and then it started raining. Everyone agreed that Handel's splendid music was the only unmitigated success.

In its structure, the »Fireworks Music« resembles a French orchestral suite, where several stylised dance movements of different character follow an opening overture. Among these dance movements are the Baroque courtly dance bourrée, a gently swaying siciliana and two minuets. Like the »Water Music«, the »Fireworks Music« remains one of Handel's most popular pieces. The very announcement of work aroused so much attention among Londoners that the final rehearsal took place in front of a huge audience of some 12,000 people, and, according to contemporary accounts, caused the first traffic jam in the city's history.


Text: Simon Chlosta, Stand 21.7.2022
Translation: Clive Williams

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