27th April 1749.
Mr George Frederic Handel departed from Hamburg in 1705 and was responsible for restoring English music to its highly respected position after the death of Purcell in 1695.
Handel rose to prominence with ‘The Water Music’ for King George I in 1717, to accompany a leisurely trip along the Thames, accompanied by the ’Quality’. The ‘artisan musicians’ being banished to a side-boat.(1)
Many years later in 1749, George II was to call upon the now famous Handel, this time for a celebration with fireworks, to be held Today in London’s Green Park, to honour the signing of the 1748 Treaty of ‘Aix-La-Chapelle’, which marked the end of the War of the Austrian Succession.
A musical rehearsal six days earlier on 21st April at Vauxhall Gardens saw twelve thousand pay two shillings and sixpence, the carriages causing a three hour traffic jam.
For the actual performance, a Temple of Peace had been built, but unfortunately a stray rocket hit the Temple, causing the collapse of a bas relief of George II, in the process destroying 10,000 fireworks and killing three people in the process.
Handel had wanted to simply entitle the music ‘Overture’, but King George objected, and it was renamed, as a propaganda exercise for an unpopular King and Treaty, as the grandly called ’Music for the Royal Fireworks’.
The year 1749 was a time for fireworks: a hand-coloured etching of the period shows ‘FIRE-WORKES (sic) and ILLUMINATIONS at his GRACE the DUKE of RICHMOND at WHITEHALL and on the RIVER THAMES and Performed by direction of George Frederic Handel Esq’.
The scoring of the Royal Fireworks required: 24 oboes, 12 bassoons as well as a contra-bassoon, 9 natural trumpets, 9 natural horns, 3 pairs of kettle-drums and an unspecified number of snare-drums. They would have heard it at Hampstead! (2)
(1) It was premiered on 17th July 1717.
(2) The mighty contra-bassoon is an octave lower than the bassoon, reaching down to the lowest note on a piano. It was used amongst others by Beethoven in his 5th Symphony.
Ref: oae.co.uk/music-fro-royal-fireworks. Pic Ref.
The War of The Austrian Succession (known as King George’s War in America), resulted from the death of the Prussian King and Austrian Emperor in 1740, leaving Marie Theresa ruling the Hapsburg Empire.
The new king of Prussia Frederick [The Great], ignoring previous agreements invaded part of the Empire’s Silesia and annexed Austrian Prussia.
The French and English were drawn in, as Hanover (George II was also its King), was threatened by the French, but this was settled by England handing Louisburg (in America), back to the French, after it had been captured by the New England colonists.
The War was the last time an English king led his troops into battle at Dettingen in 1743.
England had other troubles, as she had to withdraw most troops from Europe, in 1745, to deal with the threat from Bonnie Prince Charlie.