Music for the Royal Fireworks

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Music for the Royal Fireworks is a group of five pieces for orchestra composed by George Frideric Handel in 1749. He was asked by King George II to write the music because the king wanted some music and fireworks to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. This was an agreement between a lot of European countries to end the war they had been fighting.

The king wanted the celebrations to take place in Green Park in London. He wanted the orchestra to have lots of military instruments such as trumpets and drums and “hoped there would be no violins”! He wanted the orchestra to have a rehearsal in Vauxhall Gardens to which the public would be able to go. Handel was not very happy with these arrangements, but in the end he agreed.

The rehearsal in Vauxhall Gardens took place on 21 April. This was just for the music, there were no fireworks. There were 12,000 people in the audience. The huge crowds caused a three hour traffic jam on London Bridge. The tickets for entrance cost 2s 6d (two shillings and six pence, worth 12 ½p in modern money).

Six days later the real performance took place in Green Park. The orchestra played in a building which had been specially made. The music was played while the fireworks went off. Unfortunately there was a disaster. The building caught fire when a huge bas relief of the king fell down. However, no one was hurt.

The music has five movements: an overture, a Bourrée, a movement called La paix (The Peace), La réjouissance (The Rejoicing), and two minuets.

Handel wrote the music for a large orchestra with 24 oboes, 12 bassoons (including a contrabassoon), nine trumpets, nine horns, three pairs of kettledrums, and a number of side drums. On 27 May Handel conducted the music again at a special concert for the Foundling Hospital. This time he used a normal orchestra with string instruments and wind instruments. This is the way it is usually played today.