Suite written by Handel to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle which ended the War of Austrian Succession. It was commissioned by King George II (1740-1748). The treaty also firmly established George and his heirs the rulers of England, so he was
understandably in party mood.
The work is a French-style suite, beginning with an
overture in 3/4 time and in D major. The subsequent 5 movements are stylized dances including "La Paix" (peace)
and a final allegro called "La Réjouissance" (Rejoicing). As the piece was written to be performed outside in
Vauxhall Gardens, the orchestration is heavy on the louder instruments available; oboes, bassoons and
It was a measure of Handel's popularity that a large paying audience turned up for a rehearsal of the work,
causing one of London's earliest traffic-jams.
"The Gentleman's Magazine" carried the following report on Friday, 21 April, 1749:
"Was performed at Vauxhall Gardens the rehearsal of the music for the fireworks by a band of 100
musicians, to an audience above 12,000 persons (tickets 2s 6d). So great a resort occasioned such a
stoppage on London Bridge, that no carriage could pass for three hours. The footmen were so numerous as to obstruct
the passage, so that a scuffle happened, in which some gentlemen were wounded."
The actual premiere (on 27 April 1749) met with worse disaster. Not only was the orchestra drowned out by the
fireworks and 101 cannon blasts, but there was a large scale fire. The orchestra performed on a specially-constructed
stage. It was 100 feet high and topped by a 200 foot sun. All made of wood. Some stray fireworks landed on it and
it caught fire. Handel stuck to his conducting, whilst the audience ran for their lives...