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4. Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks & Water Music

Music in England was for long dominated by the spirit of a German composer who first went to London as a composer of Italian opera. George Frideric Handel, born in the German town of Halle in 1685, lived to create that most English of forms, the English oratorio. Among the most popular instrumental music he wrote must be the Music for the Royal Fireworks and the Water Music. These works consist of a number of attractive short movements, with dances that include the inevitable Minuet and the very English Hornpipe. Handel wrote his Water Music originally for the entertainment of the new King of England, George I, Elector of Hanover, on the River Thames. Fifty musicians in barges on the river accompanied the King and the royal party from Lambeth to Chelsea, where the music was continued during supper and on the return journey.

The Music for the Royal Fireworks was written in 1749 to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle that marked the end of the War of the Austrian Succession. A grand firework-display was planned in Hyde Park, for which Handel, with some reluctance, provided introductory music. On the evening itself the music, which accompanied the King's arrival and inspection of the structure erected for the occasion, went well enough. During the display, however, part of the enormous wooden structure caught fire and complete disaster was narrowly averted.

The Water Music and Fireworks Music are splendid examples of popular music for pleasure from 18th century London. While both sets of pieces were originally designed for royal occasions, they served Handel well enough as accompaniment to the delights of the London pleasure-gardens at Vauxhall.

Recommended recording
Handel: Fireworks Music & Water Music, played by the Capella Istropolitana under Bohdan Warchal. Naxos 8.550109