I just had to post this poem while we’re still in 2017.
Handel’s Water Music was premiered on the odd, if not magical date of 17/7/1717.
It wouldn’t be the same somehow in the boringly even year 2018...
We played hard that evening, us fifty
from Whitehall to Chelsea, then all the way home.
Till four in the morning we walked on the water
gently in duples, jigged hornpipes in three,
from Overture to Air we strolled and we danced
staccato, legato, allegro, con brio
our melodies flowed down the river, lost
as we played them. But he liked what he heard.
Three times he wanted it, over and over,
‘I shall have it again’, and he had it
river reflected, broken by waves
those symphonies, rippled like flags
fluttering a moment. So we too were
kings for a while, gorgeous and golden
along with the real one, old George.
And the younger as well, he was well pleased
to breathe in his music, inspired
by this water, refreshed and transformed
as an echo which travels the river
long after we’d played our way home.
Actually, I think the whole affair must have been a bit magical.
That flotilla of royal barge, accompanied (sorry about the pun) by another, with some fifty musicians, along with a great number of other boats – ‘the whole river in a manner was covered’ – was wafted upstream from Whitehall to Chelsea on the tide, with a similarly easy return journey when it was dark.
Relaxing it may have been for the rowers, but for those oboe, bassoon, horn and trumpet players, it was a long blow, with the king commanding repeat after repeat.
So the music must have sounded pretty good.
I read that ‘I shall have it again’ were king George’s very words.
Any of us who’s performed can resonate with that sort of approval: our musicians for their part must have felt pleased.
And for Handel himself the royal approval would have been very welcome.
Sorry if the poem gets a bit complicated. There are in fact three Georges in play here – the king, his son the future George II, and the composer – though I’m thinking of the first and the last, both together on this special evening, feeling in their different ways no less than regal.
A (self) critical word here. I couldn’t resist using the word gorgeous – it feels so right, with all those Georges ( a rearrangement, and you're nearly there). But, although I found reasons (excuses?) such as being gilded by the setting sun reflecting off the river, and the idea that ceremonial eighteenth century livery/uniforms would have used at least some golden thread, creating a sumptuous, beautiful and attractive impression - what more do you need to look gorgeous? – it is a bit over the top. Time to murder a darling?
But back to the regality.
I’m suggesting that the splendour of this theatrical occasion, so grandly amplified by the wonderful music, must have generated a magic feeling of drama and power which would have infected all the various participants, especially the musicians.
Yes, everyone can be a king, if only for a moment…
As you can tell, I love history.
Ages ago – the whole thing gets historical – I studied history. Since then, I’ve never been able to throw out my old history books, outdated as they are; they line the walls of my hut – unread now of course, but how well I know their bindings. They’re all old friends. I can’t chuck them overboard.
Music and History, with a bit of messing about on the water, not forgetting poetry itself – these are some of my favourite things. Bring them together on a magic date, and I'll be a king too, happily declaring 'I shall have it again'.