New Music Friday: Air & Fugue from Water Music, Suite 1

There’s no better way to spend a cold day in late January than dreaming about summer boating parties. This week’s highlighted new music is this grade 3 string orchestra arrangment of two movements from Handel’s Water Music, Suite 1 from Robert McCashin.

During the 18th century, it had become common practice for royalty to call for ‘water parties’, or evening pleasure trips upon the water. It was just such an occasion that brought Handel to write his three famous Water Music Suites. In the summer of 1717, King George I decided sponsor such an event upon the River Thames. The trip began in London and ventured all the way to Chelsea. The King and his guests boarded the Royal Barge, departed around 8 o’clock in the evening and arrived in Chelsea around after midnight. It was for this trip that King George requested his court composer, G.F. Handel, to prepare music for the adventure. Handel composed three suites. These two movements are from Suite I in F Major, written just for the occasion. Movements from the suites are based in the Baroque dance forms and designed to be performed in no particular order. King George invited other members of his royal cohort – dukes, duchesses and other guests for the journey. There they spent the entire nearly 5-hour trip enjoying music being performed by court musicians on a separate barge that remained close by.

During the “Air”, performers should take great care to place the note values exactly/mathematically as written, and in particular the dotted-eighth/sixteenth passages. This movement should also exhibit a stately and ‘royal’ stature in sound and even player posture! Observe carefully the indicated dynamics. This includes a slight growth or crescendo during any extended note values, propelling the performer, and the audience, into the following turn of phrase.

The “Fugue” that follows must be lively and cheerful. After all, the ‘purpose’ of this music was to cheer-up the King! Be particularly observant of 1) the fugue subject, 2) the fugue counter-subject, and 3) the other accompanying lines, noting the melodic as well as harmonic importance and placement of each voice at any given time. This requires sophisticated ‘listening’ for every individual. It might be worthwhile to have the first violins PLAY the subject material, and then have all the other sections look through their parts and identify the subject and where it exists in THEIR part. And finally – this movement is ‘best’ performed with a smile on the faces of all the performers!

In addition to an extensive list of publications, Dr. Robert McCashin is a Professor Emeritus, having completed 43 years teaching at the university level. His former position was as Director of Orchestras and Professor of Conducting and Violin at James Madison University. During Dr. McCashin’s final 24 years (at JMU), he served as the music director and conductor for the Symphony, Opera Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra and Camerata Strings. In addition, he taught Graduate Applied Conducting, MM and DMA academic courses for conductors as well as applied violin & viola. Dr. McCashin is a string educator and an active writer/arranger in the string education field. He maintained a busy conference presentation schedule throughout his career, making presentations on conducting technique, string pedagogy and the math-science-physics & physiology of string playing. His works can be found through FJH Music Co. in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Tempo Press/Luck’s Music in Madison Heights, MI and Wingert-Jones/JW Pepper in PA. He is the Founder of, and Past President for the International College Orchestra Directors Association.


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