Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Happy Birthday, Handel and Haydn Society!

by Teresa M. Neff

March 24, 2015, proclaims the Mayor, is H+H Day in Boston, just one part of a year-long celebration of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Handel and Haydn Society in 1815.

Today is also the opening of the H+H Bicentennial Exhibit at the Boston Public Library, Central Library in Copley Square. Open through September 5, 2015, the exhibit features historical objects from the H+H archives and interactive music exhibits, including a recreation of H+H’s 1815 performance of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. A free smartphone app is also available to explore the H+H archives and take a walking tour of H+H in Boston.

Photo: James Doyle
The Handel and Haydn Society was founded on March 24, 1815, when several men met to discuss the feasibility of forming a singing society in Boston, Massachusetts. The meeting was held at the home of Gottlieb Graupner, a professional musician born in Halle, Germany. He had come to Boston by way of London, where he had played oboe in the orchestra that premiered Haydn’s symphonies written for that composer’s first trip to London in 1791-1792. In Boston, Graupner opened a music shop, gave concerts, and founded the Philharmonic Society, a group of sixteen men who met on Saturday evenings to play Haydn symphonies. At their rehearsals, members of the Philharmonic Society often discussed the idea of forming a choral society.

After the meeting on March 24, 1815, events moved quickly, and by the end of April, forty-four men approved the Handel and Haydn Society’s constitution, which outlined the organization’s goal of “improving the style of performing sacred music, and introducing into more general use the works of Handel and Haydn and other eminent composers.”

The first concert, on December 25, 1815, at King’s Chapel, Boston, began with selections from Haydn’s oratorio The Creation followed by arias and choruses from Handel oratorios and several English anthems. There were 100 singers, (ninety men and ten women) accompanied by an orchestra of thirteen, performing for an audience of 1,000. This first concert was so successful that a second was scheduled for the following January. 

When the Handel and Haydn Society was founded in 1815, Joseph Haydn was the composer of the “new” or contemporary music, built on the compositional rules of earlier generations, represented by the popular choral music of George Frideric Handel. That underlying idea of new and traditional has been at the heart of H+H for 200 years..

For more about the Bicentennial:

Teresa M. Neff is the Christopher Hogwood Historically Informed Performance Fellow with the Handel and Haydn Society and a lecturer at MIT.


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