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Water Music

In the 5th Century BC, water was classified as one of the four essential elements. Over the centuries artists, poets, philosophers and composers have returned again and again to the mysteries of water for inspiration. This week, we'll focus on Water Music with works by Vaughan Williams, Mahler, Debussy and (of course) Handel.

Program 1

Beginning with the orginal Water Music, we hear George Friderich Handel's Suite No. 1 in F major. Handel's Water Music premiered in July 1717 for King George I. It debuted at a boating party on the River Thames.

As English concert halls continued to grow larger, many conductors didn't like to perform the piece with it's comparably small ensemble. Sir Hamilton Harty took it upon himself to reorchestrate the piece for a more modern setting. Excerpts from different versions are performed in this program.

Moving on to other water music, we hear Maurice Ravel's 1908 piece Ondine. This translates to the water sprite and is based on a poem by Aloysious Bertrand.

Finally, we hear the overture to Richard Wagner's opera The Flying Dutchman. This stormy sea scene was taken from real life when Wagner and his wife were stuck on a boat in a three-day storm.

Trad.: “I’m Bound for the Rio Grande”
Robert Shaw Chorale/ Shaw
RCA 09026-63528

Handel: Water Music, Suite No. 1 in F Major
Vienna Concentus Musicus/ Harnoncourt
Teld 4509-93668
28:07, :24

Handel: Water Music, Suite No. 1 in F Major(excerpt)
Philadelphia Orchestra/ Ormandy
CBS 6095

Ravel: Ondine
Ashkenazy, p.
Lon 410255

Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer: Overture
Lon 071201


Program 2

Today features the work of English composers beginning with Sir Arnold Bax. Bax was born in England, but traveled to the west coast of Ireland in 1902 when he was about 20 years old because he had fallen in love with the poetry of William Butler Yeats. He composed Tintagel while there for a pianist he had fallen in love with, Harriet Cohen.

Sir Edward Elgar's Sea Slumber Song, part of the larger work Sea Pictures, premiered on October 5, 1899 with Elgar as the conductor. About a month later, this peice was performed for Queen Victoria.

Another English composer, Fredrick Delius combined German training with French impressioinist influence. Here is a tone poem he composed in 1911 about a small river that ran behind his estate in France. It is called Summer Night on the River.

Ralph Vaughan Williams loved the poems of Walt Whitman and his Sea Symphony was inspred by the poet's work Leaves of Grass. Here is the first movement from the symphony, A Song for All Seas, All Ships.

Bax: Tintagel
Ulster Orch/Thomson
Chan 8312

Elgar: Sea Pictures (excerpt)
LSO/J. Baker Barbirolli
EMI 56219

Delius: Summer Night on the River
Chan 8330

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony(excerpt)
EMI 47212

Handel Water Music (excerpt)

Program 3

Felix Mendelssoh traveled to Scotland around the age of 20 and was inspired by a mysterious cave on the Isle of Staffa. The result is heard here in his piece Hebrides Overture.

The 1914 piece The Sea, by Frank Bridge is written about perhaps more than it is played. This is because Benjamin Britten was so inspired by a performance of this piece as an 11-year-old boy,  Britten pleaded with Bridge to let him study with him.

The Sea was very influential on Britten, and the influence can be heard in Britten's opera, Peter Grimes debuted in 1945. The opera features Four Sea Interludes including Dawn, Sunday Morning, Moonlight and Storm.

Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture
Royal Scottish National Orch/Gibson
Chan 6538

Bridge: The Sea
Royal Liverpool Orch/Groves

Britten: Four Sea Interludes
Ulster Orch/Handley
Chan 8473

Mahler: Sym. No. 6 (excerpt)
Lon 414674

Program 4

We move away from salt water with Bedrich Smetana's tone poem Vlatava from the work Ma Vlast. This movement is also known as the Moldeau.

Next, we hear Russian composer Anatoly Liadov's piece The Enchanted Lake, based on a Russian fairy tale.

The program closes with several works from American composers. First, Robert Shaw's Swansea Town and Shenendoah, then Dominic Argento's The Lake at Night. Finally, we hear Ferde Grofe's Mississippi Suite and Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Smetana: Vlatava
Czech Phil/Neumann
Supraphon 0711

Liadov: The Enchanted Lake
Chan 7047

Trad: Swansea TownShenendoah
Robert Shaw Chorale/Shaw
RCA 09026-63528

Argento: The Lake at Night
Patrice Michaels
Cedille 90000 029

Grofes: Mississippi Suite
New York Philharmonic/ Kostelanetz

Simon and Garfunkel: Bridge overTroubled Water
Simon and Garfunkel
Warner Bros 3654



Program 5

The final program returns to where we began, Handel's Water Music. However, what we hear today is the D Major section from Suite 2.

Next performed is Claude Debussy's tone poem La Mer (The Sea). Debussy always thought he would end up as a sailor and had a lot of devotion to the sea. The work was completed in 1905 and includes three movements From Dawn to Midday on the Sea, Play of the Waves and Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea.

The program closes with Antonio Jobim's Waters of March which he wrote in English while visiting New York.


Handel: Water Music
Concentus Musicus/Harnoncourt
Teld 4509-93668

Debussy: La Mer
EMI 69587

Jobim: Waters of  March
Elise & Tom

Ravel: Ondine (excerpt)
Ashkenazy,  p.
Lon 410255


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