Water Music Suites
George Frideric Handel

117

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Handel has 7 entries in the Ultimate Hall of Fame — the same as Wagner and Schubert — and this is the fourth. It's appeared in every Hall of Fame chart, peaking at number 60 in 2003.

It is to be hoped that you have never been caught out and turned up at a performance of Handel's Water Music, only to find it's the piece of the same name (but very different-sounding) of the twentieth-century American composer John Cage. This work does not consist of three pleasant suites, split into minuets, bourrées, airs and hornpipes, light and florid in nature, and with beguiling catchy tune after beguiling catchy tune. John Cage's Water Music is written for a pianist who is instructed to pour water into pots, play cards and blow whistles under water, while an assistant displays the score on a poster. Quite a different experience altogether from Handel's piece, which is now a household favourite, easy on the ear and jauntily life-affirming. Exactly the sort of music you would like to waft you down the River Thames if you were a king with the weight of government on your shoulders.

Painting by Edouard Jean Conrad Hamman of King George I's concert on the River Thames, for which this piece was commissioned.