Music for the Royal Fireworks
The Music for the Royal Fireworks (HWV 351) is a wind band suite composed by George Frideric Handel in 1749 under contract of George II of Great Britain for the fireworks in London's Green Park on 27 April 1749. It was to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.
The performing musicians were in a specially constructed building that had been designed by Servandoni, a theatre designer. The music provided a background for the royal fireworks that were designed by Thomas Desguliers, son of the cleric and scientist John Theophilus Desaguliers. However, the display was not as successful as the music itself: the enormous wooden building caught fire after the collapse of a bas relief of George II. However, the music had been performed publicly six days earlier, on 21 April 1749 when there was a full rehearsal of the music at Vauxhall Gardens. Over twelve thousand people, each paying 2/6, rushed for it, causing a three-hour traffic jam of carriages after the main route to the area south of the river was closed due to the collapse of the central arch of newly built London Bridge.
Music and instrumentation
The work is in five movements:
- Ouverture: Adagio, Allegro, Lentement, Allegro
- La Paix: Largo alla siciliana
- La Réjouissance: Allegro
- Menuets I and II
It was scored for a large wind band ensemble consisting of 24 oboes, 12 bassoons (and a contrabassoon), nine natural trumpets, nine natural horns, three pairs of kettledrums, and side drums which were given only the direction to play "ad libitum"; no side drum parts were written by Handel. Handel was specific about the numbers of instruments to each written part. In the overture there are assigned three players to each of the three trumpet parts; the 24 oboes are divided 12, 8 and 4; and the 12 bassoons are divided 8 and 4. The side drums were instructed when to play in La Réjouissance and the second Menuet, but very likely also played in the Ouverture.
After the first performance Handel re-scored the suite for full orchestra. Handel wrote notices in the score: the violins to play the oboe parts, the cellos and double basses the bassoon part, and the violas either a lower wind or bass part. The instruments from the original band instrumentation play all the movements in the revised orchestral edition except the gentle Bourrée and the first Menuet, which are played by only the oboes, bassoons, and strings alone.
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There are many recordings. Handel's "Water Music", although it was composed more than thirty years earlier, is often paired with the "Music for the Royal Fireworks" as both were written for outdoor performance. Together, these works constitute Handel's most famous music for what we would now consider the orchestra. Older recordings tend to use arrangements of Handel's score for the modern orchestra, for example the arrangements by Hamilton Harty and Leopold Stokowski. More recent recordings tend to use more historically informed performance methods appropriate for baroque music and often use authentic instruments.
There are also several arrangements for pipe organ, alone or with brass.
This music was performed for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II on June 1, 2002, at the Buckingham Palace gardens, complete with fireworks.
- Great Britain. Board of Ordnance A description of the machine for the fireworks, with all its ornaments, and a detail of the manner in which they are to be exhibited in St. James's Park, Thursday, April 27, 1749, on account of the general peace, signed at Aix La Chapelle, October 7, 1748. Published by order of His Majesty's Board of Ordnance. London : printed by W. Bowyer, sold by R. Dodsley, and M. Cooper. 1749.
- 2/6 = Two shillings and six pence
- Preface notes and score Fr. Chrysander, Water-Music, Firework-Music, Concertos and Double Concertos for Full Orchestra by George Frederic Handel, reprinted 1965, Gregg Press Inc., New Jersey, U.S.A.
- Fireworks Music: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Score (E-book) of Fireworks Music (ed. Friedrich Chrysander, Leipzig 1886)