George Frideric Handel

Music for the Royal Fireworks

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 20 Minutes
Genre: Orchestral Suite
Time of Creation: 1749
World Premiere: April 27, 1749 (London)

Table of Contents

Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks in 5 Sentences

George Frideric Handel composed his Music for the Royal Fireworks, like his Water Music, for an open-air occasion, namely for a royal fireworks event. Today, the Fireworks Music is one of Handel’s most popular works, but it was composed under curious circumstances: The English King George II originally did not want any music at all for his fireworks, but was persuaded to do so, but only on the condition that only military instruments (i.e. no strings) were allowed to play. Handel only apparently bowed to this by composing such a version, but four weeks after the premiere he published his desired version (with strings, of course). Thanks to Handel’s great popularity in London, 12,000 people flocked to the public dress rehearsal of the Music for the Royal Fireworks on April 21, 1749, causing what may have been the first traffic jam in history – carriages backed up on London Bridge, the streets were congested for hours.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks

Highlight 1: French Overture

The overture of the Fireworks Music is in the French style with its two contrasting parts (slow-fast):

Highlight 2: Bourrée

Then follows the first dance movement (a bourrée):

Highlight 3: La Paix

With “La Paix,” Handel creates a resting point in the Music for the Royal Fireworks before…

Highlight 4: La Réjouissance

…there is again blaring military music in “La Réjouissance”:

3 Questions and Answers about Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks

Question 1: Why did Handel compose the Music for the Royal Fireworks?

In 1749, on the occasion of the Peace of Aachen, fireworks were held in London, for which music was needed.

Question 2: What happened in 1749 when the Fireworks Music was played?

The fireworks were a disaster: the gun salutes that were supposed to mark the beginning of the music failed to go off, part of the decorations went up in flames, people went at each other with swords out of sheer anger, and finally everything was drenched by a downpour. The best part of the whole celebration was undoubtedly – Handel’s music 😊

Question 3: Who commissioned the Fireworks Music?

The Fireworks Music was commissioned by the English King George II.

2 Recommended Recordings of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks

Recording 1: hr-Sinfonieorchester, Richard Egarr (live, 2021)

The hr-Sinfonieorchester‘s interpretations are actually always worth recommending. In this performance, British conductor Richard Egarr leads us through Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, giving all the instrumental groups enough freedom to develop to their full potential:

Recording 2: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner (Studio, 1972)

If you would like to hear a somewhat older recording for comparison, you can turn to the interpretation of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under the direction of Sir Neville Marriner:

1 Quote about Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks

Handel is the greatest composer who ever lived. I would bare my head and kneel at his grave.

Ludwig van Beethoven

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