Eighteenth-century London saw major changes in where and why concerts were held. Concerts moved from the private to the public sphere; instead of serving individual patrons, they were increasingly orientated towards market demand and became strongly commercial enterprises. Rather than being held in private music-meetings, performances were increasingly advertised in newspapers and on playbills, with admission supposedly granted to anyone in possession of a valid ticket. The latter half of the century gave rise to charity concerts, such as those organised by George Frideric Handel in aid of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity. Although these events were ostensibly organised for philanthropic purposes, they were also opportunities for composers and performers to demonstrate their abilities, for patrons to exhibit their wealth and generosity, and for members of the upper classes (particularly women) to socialise.

The PhD will offer the first detailed study of charity benefit concerts in the second half of the eighteenth century. Using performer lists, concert tickets, private correspondences, charity minutes, Georgian directories and newspaper accounts, it will explore the networks of those involved in charity benefits within the context of eighteenth-century London with its changing attitudes towards charity, religion, industry, gender, luxury and commerce. In doing so, it will assess the impact charity benefits had on those involved, namely recipients of charity, benefit organisers, audience members, and performers, and what motivated their participation. It will also shed light on the practicalities of organising charitable benefit concerts and the function of music within the economy of charity, both as a commodity and as a symbolic object.