The story behind Messiah

If there is any way you could spend an hour (really, 59 minutes and 10 seconds!) between now and Christmas, I invite you to watch this fascinating BBC video about how George Frideric Handel composed Messiah to raise money to support the Foundling Hospital. Based on my offhand comments in my last post on Handel being only interested in making money, Vreni Griffith sent me the link to this video.

Here’s what this video is all about:

Handel’s Messiah is one of the most popular choral pieces in Western music. It has been recorded hundreds of times and contains a tune that is as instantly recognisable as any in music. Yet few people know the extraordinary story of how this much-loved piece came to public attention – or how it helped save the lives of tens of thousands of children.

Historian Amanda Vickery and BBC Radio 3 presenter Tom Service present this one-hour drama documentary which recreates the first performance of Messiah at London’s Foundling Hospital in 1750 and tells the heart-rending story of how this special fundraising concert helped maintain the hospital and heralded a golden age of philanthropy.

The Foundling Hospital in London has now been demolished.

The Foundling Hospital in London (1741) has been demolished but there is now a museum.

Exploring historical documents and artefacts, Amanda Vickery examines the plight of women in Georgian London, particularly how the attitudes of the time led mothers to abandon their babies at the hospital. Tom Service looks at the momentous trials and tribulations faced by Handel in London and discovers how the composer became involved with the Foundling Hospital alongside another philanthropist of the day, the artist William Hogarth.

I especially commend the audio of this beloved work on the video — it’s all done with a period orchestra (the Gabrieli Consort) and the soloists’ voices are particularly beautiful. You’ll also hear the heartbreaking stories of how mothers left a bit of cloth as a “receipt” for their babies, and the numbers of children who died before their second birthday.  Someone commented:

“A few years ago I went to the foundling hospital with my husband. I had to read the cards attached to the exhibits to my husband as he hadn’t got his glasses with him. Unfortunately I was unable to do this because as I tried I began to cry uncontrollably. It was just heartbreaking to read of the little tokens left with many of the children, by their mothers, who must have been distraught at having to leave their tiny infants to the care of strangers, and hoping against hope that one day they would be able to come and claim them back. It just broke my heart at how sad and unfair it was for them.”
Foundling Hospital chapel.

Foundling Hospital chapel.

I especially was surprised to learn that Handel was greeted with criticism of his work, and he was forced to change the name from “Messiah” to simply “A Sacred Oratorio.”

If you would like to find out more about the Foundling Hospital or the Foundling Museum, I suggest that you check out this link.

Those of you who will be hearing or performing Messiah this season will appreciate hearing this beloved work all the more after you watch the video. I’m off to Kona this morning to perform the work with the Kona Choral Society tomorrow at the Sheraton Keauhou hotel.

Thanks, Vreni!

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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