Classical Fireworks

Fourth Of July Fireworks

A sure sign of summer is the boom and the burst of a fireworks show. Colors streaming through the sky. Trails of smoke drifting in all directions. The oohs and ahs of the crowd with each shell shooting upwards. The anticipation of the final big bursts that signal the impending conclusion as rockets are fired in quicker succession.  A cacophony of sound and color overwhelming the senses in a massive display of power before your eyes. When it is over you almost feel a sense of literal electricity in the air amid the smell of wafting smoke.

Despite having to inevitably calm terrified pets or curse at amateurs setting them off late at night for some reason, I love watching a good fireworks show. Though the reasons for shooting them off might be vastly different around the world, fireworks are recognized as being part of a celebration of some sorts, be it Chinese New Year, July 4th or many other holidays. I have seen firework shows after graduations, concerts, sports events and weddings even. No matter where you are, when you see or hear fireworks, you know that good times are present.

One such occasion even prompted music by my favorite classical composer-George Friderich Handel. In 1749 he composed his Music For The Royal Fireworks. It was actually commissioned by King George II to celebrate the Treaty Of Aix-la-Chapelle and the end of the Austrian War Of Succession. I have always found Handel’s music to be utterly majestic. I think that is why his music resonates for so many people who aren’t normally classical music fans. Most people can correctly name (and hum a few notes) of Beethoven’s Fifth, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Pachelbel’s Canon or Handel’s Messiah.  As one classical musician I spoke to once said-there is a lot to remember with this music. Thousands of composers with countless works of music, each with multiple movements and arrangements. The fact that casual listeners can remember both the composers name and the work among so many options is telling. It speaks to how wonderful those compositions really are.

I think the reason Music For The Royal Fireworks, just like Handel’s other key works The Messiah and Water Music resonate so deeply is that the music  just…feels so right. It grabs you deep inside. You feel the music. I’m not sure if this was his plan, but Handel seemed to go right for the ‘hook’ at the start. No subtle string section buildup here.  Fireworks Music begins on a grand scale, with massed woodwinds and percussion. Apparently at the original performance there was a bit of a disagreement between Handel and the person providing the fireworks over Handel’s desire to have strings added to the orchestra. Not long after the original performance Handel re-scored it for a full orchestra, which is how most people are familiar with it today.

At the bottom of this post is a clip of the entire performance, but for a shorter example of why this is such a wonderful work one only has to listen to the section called La Rejouissance. The progression of notes, the interplay of instruments is so fitting for a celebration. When one describes joyful or exuberant music, pieces like this truly fit. I think King George II picked the right person for the job! Perhaps because conditions are usually best for fireworks in warmer weather, this piece also feels like a great match for spring and summer. When I hear it, I envision crowds of people on a warm evening, spread out on a blanket with food and wine waiting for darkness to come and the start of a fireworks show.

Regarding the photo above, though of course here in New York we have one of the largest fireworks shows around on the 4th Of July, it was actually taken at a smaller display in Astoria Park, Queens last year. For years I have attempted to take a good photo of fireworks, but it is not easy. Luckily last year I was in good position and was able to steady the camera to catch the streaks of light. I fired off several shots of which the one here is my favorite.  Perhaps this year if I go back to watch them in the same park, I’ll just put Handel’s Music For The Royal Fireworks on the headphones and imagine being in the audience at the original performance!

Now a bit of an announcement. As I mentioned in another post recently, I seem to be having a hard time lately writing my music posts. I have absolutely no intention of stopping this, rest assured. But I feel like I may take a short break from having to  feel like I ‘must write a new music post’. I’d rather it happen organically, and fill my notebook with ideas inspired by music and my own photographs. I will continue with Monochrome Mondays every week though, so I will still very much be around. And I still will be writing because (Second Announcement!) I have been working on a book! Yes, you read that right. My number one bucket list desire has always been to write one, and I have been slowly and steadily been working on it. So that is something to look forward to!

Music For The Royal Fireworks-Composed By George Friedrich Handel

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle