Handel, ‘The Messiah’, and the Foundling Hospital

Contributed by Colin Alderman

The next time you are looking for a good music question for a quiz, try this; apart from The Messiah, in which choral work does the world-famous Hallelujah Chorus appear? The answer is the Foundling Hospital Anthem, or ‘Blessed Are They That Consider The Poor’, as it is also known.  That the most famous chorus in British, and possibly all, choral music should be included in a piece written to raise funds for the new Foundling Hospital is entirely appropriate. For without the Foundling Hospital, Handel’s masterpiece would probably have vanished into the musical history books with so much of Handel’s work.

 

 It can be said with little fear of contradiction that the German-born musician and composer, George Frideric Handel, was and remains one of Britain’s favourite composers. Yet his popularity today is based mainly on only two of his many works, the orchestral ‘Water Music’ and the choral masterpiece, ‘The Messiah’. The latter was first performed in Dublin on April 13th 1742 in the Musick Hall, a benefit concert to raise funds for the Dublin debtors’ prison and hospital. It proved popular on its first appearance but this was not to last.

 

Today we tend to think of Messiah as a religious work but that was not Handel’s intention. He wrote it as an oratorio, a dramatic piece which just happened to be retelling a Bible story. Handel had written and performed several of these before, based mainly on stories from the Old Testament. Messiah was  his first and only oratorio based on the New Testament  and the performers are commentators on the story, not participants in it. The nature of the work made some people uneasy as it was designed to be performed in a theatre, not a church. So concerned was Handel about upsetting the audience that for The London premiere in the Covent Garden Theatre the title of The Messiah was dropped!

 

The 1743 London opening was not a success and The Messiah was, at this point, destined for a dusty shelf life of obscurity. However, whilst Handel had been writing the work, a new building was arising in what was to become known as Bloomsbury. The building of the Foundling Hospital and the charity to run it was the creation of one of the most remarkable men of Georgian England, Thomas Coram. A retired ship builder and sea captain, Coram and his wife had been horrified on their return to London to find so many babies abandoned in the streets, their bodies on the garbage heaps, and floating in the drains and tributaries of the Thames. For 17 years Coram walked the streets of London, knocking on the doors of the wealthy privileged and influential and by 1742 work was underway. With a Royal Charter granted by King George II in 1739,  there would now be a place for mothers, often unmarried and young, to hand over their children for care and education.

 

Handel had been a generous donor to charities throughout his life and, perhaps inspired by the example of the painter William Hogarth, a Governor of the Foundling Hospital, offered to conduct a benefit concert in the newly-built chapel at the Foundling Hospital in May 1749. For this he composed a new work, the Foundling Hospital Anthem, which was mainly constituted of extracts from earlier pieces. It ended with the Hallelujah Chorus, lifted intact from the Messiah, a work which would have been known to hardly any of the audience. So successful was this concert, both musically and in terms of the finance raised for the Foundling Hospital, that Handel donated an organ to the chapel and returned to conduct the following year.

 

This time, however, Handel chose to perform The Messiah. It was the first time this work, never intended as devotional religious music, had been performed inside a church. This performance was so successful that he repeated it just two weeks later because some wealthy patrons had not been able to buy tickets for the first performance.  Handel became a Governor of the Foundling Hospital, alongside Hogarth, and he conducted The Messiah every year in the Hospital Chapel until his death in 1759. Even then the good work continued as Handel bequeathed a “fair copy” of the score so that the Foundling Hospital could continue to raise money after his death. The copy of the score, and Handel’s Will, can be seen today at the Foundling Museum, adjacent to the site of the hospital and chapel which, sadly, were demolished following its closure in 1926.

 

Without doubt, the charitable performances of The Messiah at the Foundling Hospital imprinted the work firmly in the minds of the music-going public, where it has remained ever since. The Messiah, written for a small choir of 16 or so singers and an orchestra of 40, is now performed all over the world, year after year, by amateur and professional choirs and orchestras of much larger dimensions. It has even developed its own peculiar ritual, with the audience standing during the Hallelujah Chorus, because George II stood up for no apparent reason during one concert. This is not popular with all though, and the music writer Arthur Jacobs wrote,  “The custom of the audience standing in the Hallelujah Chorus is now a gesture which merely encourages the bad habit of counting a performance of The Messiah as a quasi-religious rite”.

 

For most of us though, singers, musicians and audiences alike, the joy of The Messiah is in the glorious music that Handel has left us. And if by doing so we remember the continuing plight of children all over the world, I can’t help thinking that Handel would be rather pleased!

Come and Sing Messiah with us!

Basildon Choral Society, together with the Sinfonia da Chiesa and soloists, is performing the Messiah on Saturday 16th April at St. Martin’s Church in Basildon Town Centre. Would you like to join with us to sing this thrilling work?

If so:-

Please join us at the morning Workshop on that day at Langdon Hills Methodist Church, Emmanuel Rd, Langdon Hills, Basildon. SS16 6EX.

  • Registration at 10.30 am for an 11am start, continuing until 1.15pm.
  • Followed by an afternoon rehearsal at St. Martins at 3pm.
  • The performance begins at 7.45pm.
  • Fee for visiting singers is £15.

You would also be very welcome at any of our regular Wednesday evening rehearsals leading up to the concert.

If you are interested please don’t hesitate to let us know – then we can plan ahead. Also, for any further information about rehearsal times, concert dress, hire of music etc. – please contact:

Jen – 01268 410844  jen1@f2s.com

Jean –   01268 282575  jeanb13@btinternet.com

A feast of music and food!

Last Saturday (Bistro -style concert, 20th February 2016) was a thoroughly enjoyable evening for BCS audience and singers alike. Well known music and popular songs from the shows were sung with vigour and enthusiasm led by Stephen Hope, the choir’s exacting musical director. It was very well received by the audience as was the buffet meal of wondrous proportions that followed, prepared and served by choir members. A raffle was held which added to the delights of the evening.  For a first attempt at such an event the comments were so positive and encouraging that it is highly likely another similar event would be welcomed and well supported.

Concert – Bistro Style: 20th February SOLD OUT

 

SOLD OUT – Sorry no tickets available on the door

Bistro concert v2

A concert of light music to brighten dark winter nights with food and drink at the table.  Music features a selection of Simon and Garfunkel hits, folk songs and excerpts from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. It takes place at Holy Trinity Church Hall, Basildon, SS15 5AD, starting at 7.30pm on Saturday 20th February 2016.  All tickets are £12 inclusive of light supper with wine or juice.

 

 

Last night …. (the carol concert)

Some of the audience reaction:

‘Just to say the singing (and organ playing) was utterly sublime. We thoroughly enjoyed the performance and being part of it. Fantastic’ – L&KW, Basildon

‘Wow! What a great evening. I must come to the Messiah’ (Saturday 16th April 2016)

‘Absolutely lovely. Beautiful singing, we really enjoyed it.’ – G&LW, Cornwall

‘The matin responsary was amazing.’ SJ&VH, Wickford

Christmas Carols with BCS

As usual we’re presenting carols and festive readings at St Martin’s Church, Basildon Town Centre, SS14 1DX.  It takes place on Friday 18th December at 7.45pm and is the ideal occasion for all the family  – admission £10, children U16 free.

It’s the perfect way to start your Christmas festivities!

Christmas2015

Reaction to well attended Autumn Concert

On Saturday 14th November an audience of over 100 heard the choir, organ, soloists, and strings of the Sinfonia da Chiesa, perfom a wide range of classics at St Martin’s Church, Basildon.

Here are just some of the quotes from delighted members of the audience:

“I really enjoyed every minute of it!”

“I loved every single piece.”

“Both Ave Verums (Mozart and Elgar) were sung with confidence and feeling.”

“The young soprano’s singing of Mozart’s Alleluia was exciting with spine tingling top notes.”

“Stephen Hope’s dedication of the Elgar Serenade for Strings to those who suffered as a result of the Paris terrorist attack was particularly moving.  I’d never heard this piece before but it seemed so appropriate.”

Choir members were very pleased to sing to such a responsive and enthusiastic audience.

 

BCS singers in Mahler 8th!

BCS singers in Sussex Festival Choir

for Mahler’s 8th!

A fantastic evening at Fairfield Halls on 28th June. Brilliant ending!

“The GAG concert was pretty awesome!”

BCS was delighted to be invited to take part in a GAG fund raising concert on Saturday 25th July, as it is a cause dear to the hearts of many members. Audience reaction to the programme of folk songs and songs from the shows was very enthusiastic and everyone enjoyed taking part. Rehearsals following the Mahler concert provided a relaxing way to end a demanding but rewarding term.

Listen to two of the songs we sang, as recorded in June 2008:

Autumn Concert

schubertSaturday 14th November at 7.45pm

St Martin’s Church, Basildon, SS14 1DX

  • Schubert: Mass in G major
  • Haydn: Salve Regina
  • Haydn: Mass ‘Rorate Coeli Desuper’
  • Holst: Psalm 148
  • Purcell: O Sing unto the Lord
  • Purcell: Rejoice in the Lord always

This concert promises to be a feast of wonderful music, some you may find familiar, as we have previously performed it, and all will be sung with passion.

The Schubert Mass in G has soprano, tenor and bass soloists and the choir is accompanied by strings and organ.

Rehearsals are under way, why not come along and join us?  For details go to our rehearsals page.

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