Why did Handel dance the hornpipe? Examining English Hornpipes Through The Lens of Handel’s Water Music

Level of Education of Students Involved


Faculty Sponsor

Katharina Uhde


Arts and Sciences


Music History

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 2023


Many scholars consider the famous hornpipe movements in Handel’s Water Music as a nod to water on which the piece was first premiered. However, it is unlikely that the typical assumption that Handel wrote a hornpipe because of its association with sailors is correct. Research shows that correlation did not come until much later in the 1700s. Why then does Handel write not just one but two hornpipes into his Water Music; are they even associated with the dance they receive their name from? As I researched the hornpipe movements of Handel’s Water Music from a historical, cultural, and analytical perspective, I noticed that there are a number of elements that come from the hornpipe genre and the hornpipes of Purcell, the English composer of whose shoes Handel was eager to fill. The meter, syncopation, and form of this piece connect it to a number of other examples of hornpipe from the same time period and the impact Handel wanted his music to have on English audiences. While scholars such as Madeline Inglehearn have researched the specifics of the hornpipe dance and Christopher Hogwood, Paul Lang, and Donald Burrows have examined Water Music and more broadly Handel’s biography, none of them give the hornpipes their full credit as an emblem of Handel’s ambition in the English court. In my research, I set the story straight on the “Hornpipe” and “Alla Hornpipe” , their relation to King George I, his country, and the favor Handel hoped to win through their performance.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Carolina Bowen is a junior music education major. She studies voice with Professor Maura Janton Cock and piano with professor Lee. Over the course of her years at Valpo she has also sung in the Chorale, Kantorei and played viola in the VU Symphony Orchestra. This fall Carolina plans to begin student teaching and is excited to share her love for music and dancing, hornpipe style, with her future students.

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