Handel's 1749 Fireworks Music

When England’s King George II commissioned Handel to write music celebrating the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), he specified that the piece should be played by a military band without stringed instruments or, as the King put it, "no fidles." Handel complied with his Music for the Royal Fireworks, orchestral suite in five movements for 9 trumpets, 9 horns, 24 oboes, 12 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 1 serpent, 6 kettledrums, and two side drums.  Handel attached descriptive titles to two of the movements in honor of the treaty:“La Paix” (“The Peace”) is a beautiful flowing dance in honour of the treaty itself, and “La Réjouissance” (“The Rejoicing”) is a fanfare to commemorate the mood of elation and fireworks display to follow.


The build up was huge; top-class concerts open to the general public were virtually unheard of at the time and excitement was so great that tickets were sold for a public rehearsal though Handel argued against it. Even so, it turned out to be one of Handel's greatest triumphs. The run through (without fireworks), held in the Spring Gardens at Vauxhall, drew a crowd of 12,000 and caused one of London’s first traffic jams. (“So great a resort occasioned such a stoppage on London Bridge that no carriage could pass for three hours,” The Gentlemen’s Magazine reported.)


Handel's jubilant Music for the Royal Fireworks premiered at an outdoor festival in London's Green Park on April 27, 1749 the following week.  The event was less than a complete success. Despite the frenzy of preparation, no one had factored in the possibility of bad weather. So naturally it rained and most of the fireworks refused to light. Following the overture, a salute of 101 brass cannons launched the fireworks display. First, it lit up the sky.  Then it set fire to a lavish Palladian pavilion, more than 100 feet long and 114 feet high, which had been created especially for the festivities by Chevalier Servandoni, scenic designer to the French court. “What contributed to the awkwardness of the whole,” a London reporter later wrote, “was the right pavilion catching fire and being burnt down in the middle of the show.” 2 (Servandoni was later arrested for drawing his sword on the comptroller of fireworks.) So spectacle and disaster overshadowed one of Handel’s grandest works. There’s no record of what Handel made of it all, although a contemporary, Horace Walpole, reported that the evening was 'pitiful and ill-conducted' and 'very little mischief was done, but two persons killed’.

None of this put Handel off. The music itself had been well-received so Handel immediately reused it in a later indoor performance, incorporating strings into the orchestra as he had wanted all along and thus turning it into the piece that is performed often paired with the Water Music.

QCCO, in conjunction with Northern Kentucky Baroque Trumpets, is following in the footsteps of Handel's great pre-show.  Thankfully, we're leaving the recreation of the fireworks display out this time but the music will be good! 


We are surprising Cincinnati with a pop-up concert on Fountain Square on July 5th at 11:00.  Members of QCCO will be joined by instrumentalists from around the tri-state to play in what is sure to be the biggest, funnest Handelian burst of the year! IF you're interested in playing, please contact either Shawn or Evan through our Facebook page or at QCCOrchestra@gmail.com. Brass players, please contact Don Johnson.



Since this event includes players from around the tri-state, multiple rehearsals are not possible. The woodwind and percussion parts are intermediate. Please note that High School players and hobbyists are welcome but you must be proficient on your instrument. This is not for beginning players.  There are a limited number of spots available so please contact us ASAP if you'd like to play so we can add your name to the roster and get you set up.


Several small clusters of players are around so if you'd like to set up a rehearsal for your section, please do so. The official QCCO rehearsal happens the morning of July 5th at Philippus United Church of Christ in Over the Rhine.  The address is 106 W. McMicken, Cincinnati, 45202.  The church will be open at 7:30. Park in the lot across the street from the church and ring the bell on the door to the Left. There is a tiny lot behind the church which should be reserved for percussion and the moving truck. IMPORTANT: DO NOT park in the lot next to the building. It is owned by Rhinegeist and they WILL tow you.

  • 7:30 a.m. coffee and donuts

  • 8:30 a.m. -percussion

  • 9:00 a.m. -add double reeds

  • 9:45 a.m. -pack the truck

  • 10:30 a.m. -unload at Fountain Square

  • 11:00 performance


The piece is 20 minutes total. This schedule gives us time to touch spots and run it once. You MUST be in your place ready to play at the time listed above. That means parking, finding the sanctuary, getting your horn out, etc...  MUST happen before.  Also, bring your own stand and know that we are playing outside so who knows what the weather will be. We do have the stage if necessary but I'd prefer to play surrounding the fountain. It's a tight schedule but it's going to be a super fun time for everyone.  

They are not required but if you're interested, we have QCCO t-shirts for order. Once you let us know you plan to play, we will add you to the Facebook coordinating chat where you can download and print your part and access all the coordinating info like rides and timing, etc. There is a doodle poll there for sizes. Cost is $16.00 and sizes range from s-3X. I will place the order for shirts on June 25th so they should be available the morning of the 5th.

*Brass: the parts for this are extremely high. Don Johnson is setting up rehearsals for the brass. The day of the performance, warm-up gently and save your chops until performance.