We’re excited to receive the news that the BBC documentary Messiah at the Foundling Hospital has been nominated for a 2015 International Emmy.
Nominated in the arts programming category, this one-hour drama documentary recreated the first performance of Messiah at the Foundling Hospital in 1750 and told the story of how this fundraising concert helped maintain the charity. Handel’s Messiah is one of the most popular choral pieces in Western music although few people know the story of how this piece came to the public’s attention.
Although Handel came later to the cause, he quickly became invaluable to the Hospital’s fundraising efforts. Initially Handel offered to conduct a benefit concert in May 1749 in aid of the Chapel’s completion. His mixed programme included the first performance of his Foundling Hospital anthem, plus his Music for the Royal Fireworks, Anthem on the Peace and excerpts from Solomon. The audience included the Prince and Princess of Wales and ‘a great number of persons of quality and distinction’ according to The Gentleman’s Magazine. Tickets were half a guinea and over 1,000 people attended.
The following year, having by this time donated the organ, Handel conducted the first benefit concert of Messiah in the Chapel. Having previously had received a mixed reception when performed in Covent Garden (being premiered in a non-secular setting), this concert in 1750 was so oversubscribed that influential supporters had to be turned away. To alleviate embarrassment and mollify disgruntled patrons, Handel repeated the performance two weeks later. This concert secured Messiah’s popularity, which continues today, and subsequently Handel was made a Governor and concerts of Messiah became annual events with the composer conducting or attending every performance. One performance alone raised 925 guineas and collectively his concerts raised the huge sum of £7,000 (over a million pounds).
The creative generosity of Handel along with the painter William Hogarth, set the template for the ways in which the arts can support philanthropy. Handel left a fair copy of the score and orchestral parts of Messiah to the Hospital in his will, so that the charity could continue to benefit from the concerts after his death.
Many items relating to Messiah, including Handel’s will, are on display in the Museum. These form the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, an internationally-important collection of material relating to Handel and his contemporaries.