I know that this is not a preferred ‘round’ anniversary, but considering that this is Handel’s year (among others), the 260th anniversary of the first performance of one of Handel’s greatest and most beloved orchestral pieces (at least for me) deserves attention. Is this an important piece in history of music? No. Does it bring something new in Baroque music? Again – no. But Music for the Royal Fireworks is an exceptional piece – it makes us, the listeners, feel like royalty. It allows us to travel in time and we find ourselves in the Green Park in London in 1749, on the balcony with the king George II of England who commissioned the work to celebrate the end of the War of Austrian Succession (1740 – 48).
The music was to be played during the fireworks, creating a large-scale, open-air spectacular event. And Handel did not disappoint anybody: the score, full of pomp and festivity was performed by about 100 performers – some sources mention 40 trumpets, 20 horns, 16 oboes, 8 timpani pairs and 12 side drums, others add to this ensemble bassoons as well. A famous French architect Servandoni designed a special building, which performers occupied during the event.
Music was a success, but the event not so much – Servandoni’s building caught fire and burned down during the event. Despite musical success, Handel was never satisfied with the orchestration – the only reason he omitted the string section was the king’s insisting on military band (after all he paid the bills!). Later, the composer revised the orchestration – added the strings, reduced the woodwinds (to achieve better balance within new orchestra) and of course – to keep with the practice of his time - added continuo.
If we close our eyes, we can see the brilliant and masterfully designed fireworks – so in tune for this month’s topic – anniversaries.