George Frideric Handel

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The composer George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in Germany in 1685 but took up residence in London in 1712. He was one of the noted philanthropists of the 18th Century, using his reputation as a leading composer to support charitable causes, such as the Foundling Hospital, for which he raised significant sums of money as well as making it beneficiary of his will.

Initially, when Handel came to live in London, he was a champion of Italian opera but, by the 1730s, changing tastes resulting in falling ticket sales made it harder and harder for him to find the means to stage his operatic efforts. 

Over time, he gradually developed ‘English oratorio’ combining elements from Italian opera, traditional oratorio and English anthems. These were based on a sacred subject but performed at theatres or concert halls and were much cheaper to stage than elaborate opera.

Handel by John Theodore Heins, painted c 1740

Handel’s Messiah

In 1741, over just 24 days, Handel wrote the music for Messiah with a libretto by Charles Jennens with whom he had previously collaborated on his oratorio Saul.

Later that year, Handel was invited to Dublin where he gave a series of concerts. These were very popular and in early 1742, while he was still in Dublin, Handel began discussions about giving a charity concert at which he would present Messiah.

It was a great success, described in one newspaper report as “… far surpass[ing] anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom”.

Back in London, the great oratorio was less well received until May, 1749, when Handel, having approached the Foundling Hospital Governors, gave a benefit concert to raise funds for the completion of The Foundling Hospital Chapel.  The new chapel was the perfect setting for him to promote his work while being seen to support a worthy cause and he continued to perform Messiah there for the rest of his life as well as donating a new organ to it.

To show its gratitude, the Hospital made Handel a Governor.

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