The Music for the Royal Fireworks (HWV 351) is a suite for wind instruments composed by George Frideric Handel in 1749 under contract of George II of Great Britain for the fireworks in London's Green Park on 27 April 1749. It was to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 1748.
During the preparations Handel and the Duke of Montagu, the Master-General of the Ordnance and the officer responsible for the Royal Fireworks, had an argument about adding violins. The duke made clear to Handel that King George had a preference for only martial instruments and drums, and hoped there would be "no fiddles". Handel omitted the string instruments against his will. Also against Handel's will, there was a full rehearsal of the music in Vauxhall Gardens and not in Green Park. On 21 April 1749 an audience, claimed to be over twelve thousand people, each paying two shillings and six pence (half a crown) rushed to get there, causing a three-hour traffic jam of carriages on London Bridge, the only vehicular route to the area south of the river.
Six days later, on 27 April, the performing musicians were in a specially constructed building that had been designed by Servandoni, a theatre designer, who used four Italians to assist him.Andrea Casali and Andrea Soldi designed the decorations. The fireworks themselves were devised and controlled by Gaetano Ruggieri and Giuseppe Sarti, both from Bologna.Charles Frederick was the controller, captain Thomas Desaguliers was the chief fire master. The display was not as successful as the music itself: the weather was rainy causing many misfires and in the middle of the show the right pavilion caught fire. Also, a woman's clothes were set on alight by a stray rocket and other fireworks burned two soldiers and blinded a third. Yet another soldier had blown his hand off during an earlier rehearsal for the 101 cannons which were used during the event.
It was scored for a large wind band ensemble consisting of 24 oboes, 12 bassoons and a contrabassoon, nine natural trumpets, nine natural horns, three pairs of kettledrums, and side drums which were given only the direction to play ad libitum; no side drum parts were written by Handel. Handel was specific about the numbers of instruments to each written part. In the overture there are assigned three players to each of the three trumpet parts; the 24 oboes are divided 12, 8 and 4; and the 12 bassoons are divided 8 and 4. The side drums were instructed when to play in La Réjouissance and the second Menuet, but very likely also played in the Ouverture.
Handel re-scored the suite for full orchestra for a performance on 27 May in the Foundling Hospital. Handel noted in the score that the violins were to play the oboe parts, the cellos and double basses the bassoon part, and the violas either a lower wind or bass part. The instruments from the original band instrumentation play all the movements in the revised orchestral edition except the Bourrée and the first Menuet, which are played by the oboes, bassoons, and strings alone.
There are many recordings. Handel's Water Music, although it was composed more than thirty years earlier, is often paired with the Music for the Royal Fireworks as both were written for outdoor performance. Together, these works arguably constitute Handel's most famous music for what we would now consider the orchestra. Older recordings tend to use arrangements of Handel's score for the modern orchestra, for example, the arrangements by Hamilton Harty (1923) and Leopold Stokowski. Charles Mackerras´ 1959 recording for Pye Records marked a return to Handel´s orchestration. More recent recordings tend to use more historically informed performance methods appropriate for baroque music and often use authentic instruments.