The composer George Frideric Handel was one of the noted philanthropists of the eighteenth century, using his reputation as the leading composer to support charitable causes. He was a benefactor of the Foundling Hospital, Britain’s first home for abandoned and illegitimate babies, giving regular benefit performances of Messiah in the Hospital chapel to raise significant sums of money to support the children and making the Hospital a beneficiary of his will.
The exhibition drew on the rich holdings of the Gerald Coke Handel Collection at the Foundling Museum, which includes Handel’s will, with a loan from the Royal Society of Musicians of manuscript documents and art works rarely seen by the public. There were also manuscripts and art works from the British Library; the Royal College of Music; the library of King’s College, Cambridge; the London Metropolitan Archives, the Royal Collection and the National Portrait Gallery. Items from the Foundling Museum’s collection that were on display included the fair copy of Messiah that Handel left to the Hospital in his will, as well as the modern musical chairs that visitors can relax in, listening to different pieces and genres of music by Handel.
2009 was a significant year for Baroque music; in addition to celebrating the life of Handel it was also the 350th anniversary of Henry Purcell’s birth. The Museum was a partner of the Baroque 09 group of cultural venues and organisations celebrating the Baroque era which, included the Victoria and Albert Museum, Handel House Museum, BBC Radio 3, Royal Opera House and The Sixteen, who also performed at the Foundling Museum during the exhibition.
On May 27th 1749 Handel gave his first benefit concert for the Foundling Hospital to raise funds for the completion of the Foundling Hospital Chapel building, an event so successful that he repeated it with an annual performance of Messiah for the rest of his life. On May 27th 2009, exactly 260 years later, The Sixteen gave a performance of Handel’s Acis and Galatea in the Museum to commemorate Handel’s performance and to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. The concert was preceded by a free evening talk by Professor Donald Burrows who presented his latest, unpublished research on the legacy of Messiah and its history of performances at the Foundling Hospital following Handel’s death, based on material in the Foundling Hospital Archives at the London Metropolitan Archives.