Top Five Pieces That Create Their Own Fireworks

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

John Philip Sousa marches, John Williams movie scores and maybe a Gershwin tune or two will surely appear on more than a few fireworks soundtracks during Independence Day celebrations this July 4. But composers have been providing their own pyrotechnics since the 18th century. Here are the Top 5 @ 105 works that create their own fireworks.

1. To celebrate the end of the war for Austrian succession in which England participated, King George II demanded a celebratory work from Handel to accompany a fireworks extravaganza. An unfortunate malfunction started a fire in the victory pavilion built for the occasion, but Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks survived.

2. In a specifically American take on the four seasons, Charles Ives wrote his Holidays Symphony and dedicated each of the four movements to a different annual holiday. The third movement, “The Fourth of July,” quotes "Yankee Doodle" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" before ending with a cacophony of orchestral fireworks.

3. Stravinsky composed his four minute Feu d’artifice as a wedding present for Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s daughter and a fellow student. The expressive nature of the work so impressed Sergei Diaghilev that he commissioned Stravinsky to write Firebird for his Ballets Russes.

4. July 14 Bastille Day celebrations inspired Claude Debussy’s Feux d’artifices, his final PR master of the Atmosphere playful jumps across the piano with menacing beauty and spontaneity.

5. In Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, cannons add the firepower in this staple of summer outdoors classical music concerts. Though drums usually substitute for the heavy artillery, fireworks displays add a bombastic quality to this favorite.

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Comments [7]

John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

SOUSABOY....Like I said....WQXR doesn't consider a Sousa march "classical". You can hear Strauss' Radetsky (sic) March, the Triumphal March from Aida, the march from Gounod's Faust, Gounod's Funeral March for a Marionette; even Victor Herbert's the March of the Wooden Soldiers.

But Sousa? What IS the problem?

Jul. 02 2010 03:30 PM

NOBODY has included ''STARS & STRIPES FOREVER''??.....(amazing.....the greatest ''firework'' musical piece of them all)

Jul. 02 2010 02:31 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

I have to agree with Phyllis. More than once I've asked WQXR why works by American composers such as Sousa are not considered "classcial" music, except on the 4th.

Any time we hear a "non-classical" piece, almost as an apology, it has to be authored by a supremely qualified composer such as Bernstein or Gershwin.

Jul. 02 2010 07:58 AM
Phyllis Sharpe from Teaneck, NJ

Of course the 1812 has cannons and fireworks but they were for the burning of Moscow to leave nothing for Napolean to conquer. I wish WQXR for 7/4/2010 and every July 4th could forget their i.d. as Classical and be Clasic American Music, music of the people, by the people and for the people. But it would have to include non-classical composers such as Handy, Sousa, Stephen Foster, and performers Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, people who sang about America. It would have to include music by Bernstein such as "There's a place for us" from the cast album of Westside Story, or "We'll Build a House, and chop our wood and make our garden grow" (at one time the American dream) from the Candide Cast Album. It's too bad WQXR can't take this challenge.
This morning we heard "America" from West Side Story played by a classical European group. It was so vanila!

Jul. 01 2010 07:42 PM

The reference to the weapon rather than the contrapuntal device has been corrected to include a total of three n's in the last paragraph.

Jul. 01 2010 11:24 AM
Michael Meltzer

Of course it's "cannons." Canons are a contrapuntal device, not a ballistic one. However, it may not be Ms. Angel, perhaps it's the WQXR staff typist again ("Once I cudnt spel printer now I are one").
Last week it was "sneak peak," which means a secret mountain. Good trick.

Jul. 01 2010 05:42 AM
J B Russell from New York City

The 1812 Overture is indeed buttressed by firepower, but not added by "canons". I think Ms. Angel meant "cannons", no? And for some really stirring march music, give us at some point "Sambre et Meuse" and Sousa's King Cotton march.

Jun. 30 2010 07:23 PM

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