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‘By George!’ reveals Handel’s double role as composer and philanthropist

- 25 February 2014

The Foundling Museum in London has opened a new temporary exhibition examining Handel’s music for royal occasions. By George!, open until 18 May, complements the Gerald Coke Handel Collection which is held permanently at the museum.

A perspective view of the building for the fireworks in the Green Park taken from the reservoir by Robert Sayer, c.1749 Gerald Coke Handel Collection, The Foundling Museum

A perspective view of the building for the fireworks in the Green Park taken from the reservoir by Robert Sayer, c.1749
Gerald Coke Handel Collection, The Foundling Museum

The exhibition coincides with the 300th anniversary of the coronation of George I. Although, as a German national, Handel was not appointed Master of the King’s Musick, he was favoured by George I and his family, while the appointed master, John Eccles, was left to compose music for smaller, less significant occasions.

Artefacts include the 1727 order of service for the coronation of George II, annotated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, autograph manuscripts including Zadok the Priest, the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, and Lessons for Princess Louisa, which Handel composed to teach the Royal princesses to play the harpsichord.

A cutting from the Norwich Mercury in 1727 tells of how ‘Mr Hendel, the famous Composer of the Oper, is appointed to compose the Anthem of the Coronation’.

Drawn from the museum’s own collection and with loans from major institutions including the British Library, Lambeth Palace and the National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition also displays several musical instruments of the time with audio demonstrations of each instrument.

A manuscript copy of Zadok the Priest Photo: Gerald Coke Handel Collection, The Foundling Museum

A manuscript copy of Zadok the Priest
Photo: Gerald Coke Handel Collection, The Foundling Museum

Handel was a governor of the Foundling Hospital, which works today as the children’s charity Coram and was founded in 1739 to look after the abandoned children of London. Handel was an important benefactor for the hospital, by conducting annual fundraising concerts of the Messiah, donating the organ to its chapel, and composing for the institution. Handel and his fellow governor William Hogarth, the painter, created London’s first public art gallery and demonstrated new ways in which arts could support philanthropy.

The museum’s permanent exhibition includes Handel’s will, with its four codicils including a bequest to the Foundling Hospital of a full set of Messiah to allow fundraising concerts to continue after his death ‒ this set can also be seen, alongside the will. The museum also includes an extensive public listening archive of Handel’s works.

The Foundling Museum’s director Caro Howell said: ‘By exploring Handel’s royal relationships here, in the context of a home for the most vulnerable children, we’re revealing two sides of a remarkable artist. The musician who personally tutored the royal princesses also oversaw the music at the Foundling Hospital’s chapel, where illegitimate and abandoned children were christened. The composer who directed the music at lavish and unique royal events, including the royal fireworks, exploited the same appetite for scale by conducting fundraising concerts at the hospital.’

Later this year, a one-hour BBC Two documentary will recreate the Foundling Hospital premiere of Messiah presented by Amanda Vickery and Tom Service.

www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk

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