On the 27th April 1749 a spectacular event celebrating the recent signing of the Treaty of Aux-la-Chapelle took place. The Royal Fireworks attracted tens of thousands of spectators to what was a much advertised and anticipated occasion where impressive fireworks would illuminate the skies of London’s Green Park, bursting from the ‘Machine’ (a grand construction resembling an ornate building to house light displays and the fireworks) designed by the French architect Giovanni Servandoni, accompanied by music from the manuscript of Georges Frideric Handel.
Before the event itself there was a public rehearsal of the music in Vauxhall Gardens on 21st April which brought London Bridge to a complete standstill for three hours and caused general chaos in central London. “The footmen were so numerous as to obstruct the passage, so that a scuffle happen’d in which some gentlemen were wounded” (The Gentleman’s Magazine).
There are few accounts of the day, but we do know that the entire show lasted for nine hours and that part of the pavilion caught fire. One observer, Horace Walpole, clearly thought the whole occasion was awkward and somewhat of an anticlimax. However the central decoration, a giant fiery sun, was said to have been spectacular, exceeding all expectations.
So far, no account of Handel’s music has been discovered. XXVII IV MDCCXLIX in four movements(I. Ouverture II. Rehearsal III. Fireworks IV. Finale) could be described as a commentary on this fascinating occasion.
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