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The Water Music dates from Handel’s first years in England, where he arrived in 1710, officially on leave from recent employment in the Elector of Hanover’s court. He returned to Hanover, but came to England again in 1712 and stayed permanently after ingratiating himself with Queen Anne, who awarded the young composer a lifetime pension sufficient to live comfortably. In 1714, the Elector of Hanover became George I of England on Anne’s death and, far from showing displeasure with his ex-employee, doubled the pension.

George, who spoke no English and brought with him a German inner circle and two German mistresses, was detested by the English elite as a foreigner more interested in Hanover than England. He looked to soften this harsh but accurate judgment by throwing barge parties. Politics was a different game in those days.

There were royal parties on the Thames in the summers of 1715, 1716, and 1717. Handel probably provided music for those occasions, but he is known for certain to have been involved only in July 1717. The earliest surviving score of “the Celebrated Water Musick” dates from the 1730s, after Handel had been using the music in his theatrical presentations just as he used concertos, likely making changes for those occasions as was his practice. As we now know it, the Water Music comprises a “horn” Suite in F, a “flute” Suite in G, and a “trumpet” Suite in D.

The Suite in F is a sort of extended, modified French suite, with a stately Lullian beginning to its overture and some dance movements interspersed with non-dance movements. Handel’s striking use of the horns would have been all the more remarkable in 1717, when horns were new, and still rare, in orchestras. As far as anyone knows, neither he nor any English composer had used horns before, but they establish themselves as soloists from their first entrance.