Baroque music hasn’t always been my cup of tea, but I’ve made strides in its direction over the years. And even when I wasn’t a big Baroque fan, I’ve always rather liked the music of George Frideric Handel. There’s a flashy ostentatiousness to his work that I find appealing, and never moreso than in this piece, which Handel literally wrote to accompany a fireworks display. King George II of Great Britain commissioned the work for a grand fireworks display that was to take place on 27 April 1749, in commemoration of the end of some war or other, and the signing of some treaty or other. The particulars don’t seem that important now, as back then some war was always starting or ending and some treaty was always being signed or something, and in any event the weather on April 27th was poor enough to make a general mess of the fireworks, with misfires aplenty, a pavilion catching fire, and several spectators actually being set ablaze. Ouch.
Handel’s music, though, provides fireworks aplenty! It starts with joyous drums and fanfares and proceeds from one flourish to another, before we arrive at the more lyrical inner movements and then come back to full-on flourish. If you need a musical boost of enthusiastic pageant in the current crisis, you can’t do much better than Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks.
In this particular performance, take note of the ensemble itself. This is a French ensemble called Le Concert Spirituel, and they specialize in the performance of early and Baroque music on period instruments. This is as close as we can get to what the audiences would have heard in April 1749, minus the rain and miscues from the pyrotechnicians. Note the keyed woodwinds, the valveless horns with their bells held aloft, the drums placed smack in the middle of the proceedings as opposed to being stuck in the back or off to the side. And of course, note the trumpets! Valveless natural trumpets, long and regal, and held one-handed as the trumpeters stand with their other hands on their hips.
Note, too, the flamboyant leader of all this! Herve Niquet looks like a man who just stepped out of the pages of history to conduct this work. The video is worth watching just for the ensemble…but also watch it for the music. Here is George Frideric Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks.