Monthly Music & Tips: Music for Royal Fireworks

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Music for the Royal Fireworks, an orchestral suite in five movements by George Frideric Handel, premiered in London on April 27, 1749. The work was commissioned for performance at an outdoor festival celebrating the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). Its first performance preceded a fireworks display. Handel scored the music for 9 trumpets, 9 horns, 24 oboes, 12 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 1 serpent, 6 kettledrums, and 2 side drums, and he later added strings for the first indoor performance.

A public rehearsal of this work (without fireworks) was one of Handel's greatest triumphs, drawing a paying crowd of 12,000 and causing one of London's first traffic jams. Six days later, the concert was a success. However, the firework display following the concert was a disaster: the weather was rainy, causing many misfires, one which set a pavilion on fire. A stray rocket burned a woman's clothes and other fireworks burned two soldiers and blinded a third. Yet another soldier's hand was blown off during an earlier rehearsal of the 101 firework cannons.

La Rejouissance is the best-known movement from the Fireworks Music Suite. This arrangement features pipe organ stops, orchestral brass, and timpani.