The year 1749. The scene – London
‘Thurfday Orders were iffued to the Officers of the Horfe and Foot Guards, for their feveral Difpofitions on the Night of the Fireworks are to be exhibited. Monday the Musik compos’d by Mr Handel for the Firework in the Green Park, was rehears’d at his Houfe in Brook Street, Grofvenor Square. The Band confifts of upward of 100 Trumpets, Baffoons, Hautboys, French Horns, Kettle Drums, and other Inftruments. We hear that 3672 Tickets for the Fireworks are to be given to the Nobility, Gentry and Citizens, 1800 of which, we are affured, are for the latter. The Building for playing off the Fireworks is near finifhed, some of the Statues, and feveral of the Paintings being already fix’d. ‘ Old England (London, England), Saturday, April 22, 1749; Issue 260
After returning to London in 1712, and settling to stay, Georg Friedrich Händel’s music was always in great demand for state occasions, for concerts, opera and the theatre, for sacred and private performances. Händel’s music was so popular that when the second rehearsal for the Fireworks music took place in 1749 it developed into something like a free concert for passers-by and daily traffic, who are said to have stopped and jammed London Bridge for up to three hours.
Händel lived through unquiet times. He had been born the same year as Charles II died, the Nine Years War started two years later, in 1702 the War of the Spannish Succession began, later in 1715 the first Jacobite Rebellion started, 1718 saw the War of the “Quadruple Alliance”, 1740 War of the Austrian Succession, 1745 the second Jacobite Rebellion started. Händel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks turned out to be the last music he wrote as a royal ceremonial commission. The music was writtent to celebrate the Peace Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended to War of the Austrian Succession in 1749, which had been raging for around eight years.
Like today, fireworks were a popular form of entertainment in the 18th century. In one piece of music Händel used the theme of fireworks in a composition entitled ‘Celebrated Fire Musick”, originally written for Atalanta, performed in Dublin in 1741 before using the idea in the Music for the Royal Fireworks. A contempory account of the event has come down to us from the newpaper Old England…
‘On Thurfday Night, the Fireworks, on Account of the Peace, were exhibited from the Building, erected in the Green Park, St James’s, for the Purpofe. They were mighty fine, &c. and gave more than general satisfaction . The Sun diffufed it’s Glory a very confiderable Time, near Fifty-Seconds. The whole was conducted with great Skill and Dexterity, and the right Side of the Machine, increafing the Illumination, would have concluded the Night with a Bonfire of the whole Building, not withftanding the Playing of the three Engines to extinuifth it , had not the Grenadiers not intercepted the Flames by pulling down part of the Edifice to fave the reft. We hear of no Mifcheif done among the Mob, except a lufty Man who, having the Folly to think himfelf a Climber, fell down from a Tree, and pretty much bruifed himfelf…’ Old England (London, England), Saturday, April 29, 1749; Issue
Johann Sebastian Bach is reported to have said “[Handel] is the only person I would wish to see before I die, and the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach.”
If you would like to find out more about the life, times and music of Georg Friedrich Händel, please see the links below.
Music scores are avaiable for borrowing from Loughborough University Library, on Level 2, for example…
The Musick for the Royal Fireworks. Shelved at 780.84/HAN
Keyboard works / Klavierwerke Second set of 1733. Shelved at 786.405/HAN
Twelve concerti grossi for string instruments , op. 6, no 1-12 Shelved at 786.405/HAN
The Water music. Shelved at 780.84/HAN
Books avaiable for borrowing from Loughborough University Library, on Level 2, for example…
Music in eighteenth-century England :essays in memory of Charles Cudworth /edited by Christopher Hogwood and Richard Luckett Shelved at 780.942/HOG
Handel and his world by Howard Chandler Robbins Shelved at 780.92 HAN/LAN
The Possessor and the possessed :Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, and the idea of musical genius by Peter Kivy Shelved at 780.92/KIV
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Books available on the web