Some 1000 people showed up on Christmas Day of 1815 to hear the first installment of what has become the longest running show in town. Handel and Haydn Society’s inaugural concert, at King’s Chapel came as a response to a pair of successful presentations earlier in the year led by Gottlieb Graupner, a musician who had arrived from London in 1797 and who had once played oboe under Haydn there. His musical miscellanies had aroused enough interest to inspire the founding of the Society.
The composers heard in the stone church that night included by the namesakes of the ensemble well as lesser composers whose stars have faded. A special event—again at King’s Chapel—on this Saturday night at 7 pm, re-creates, and in various ways, celebrates the founding and early history of this most senior of American concert-giving organizations. And it does so in what is surely the one gathering place in Boston that is least changed in the last 200 years.
Saturday evening will not literally repeat that founding moment, though it will, naturally, close with what must count as the two most famous and popular choral numbers to have been performed over the period stretching from the founding to today: the close of Part I of Haydn’s Creation, “The Heavens are telling the glory of God,” and the close of Part II of Handel’s Messiah, “Hallelujah.”
Also evoking the activities of the Society in its first decades will be a selection of works from its active publishing program, which at the time generated a considerable income. The Old Colony Collection became a source of music suitable for both sacred and secular utility. The Handel and Haydn Society purchased in 1819 the copyright to an existing collection of that name and created with it A Collection of Sacred Music, which was assembled in 1820, with two further editions coming by 1827. Later, under the editorship of Lowell Mason, the Society’s publications became stunningly successful both in advertising the organization and bringing in needed income, but also in providing a reputable source of music for diverse other musical presenters and performers.
In recognition of this significant history, Saturday evening will include four selections from The Old Colony Collection, including a piece by Mozart as well as others. The festivities commence with three much older representations of sacred music: William Byrd’s plainsong hymn Laudibus in sanctis, and the first movement of Handel’s Coronation Anthem No. 3, “The King shall rejoice.”
H+H Music Director Harry Christophers will conduct, with Ian Watson as the organist. Tickets are on sale at the Handel and Haydn Society Box Office by phone at 617 266 3605, online here , or in person at 9 Harcourt St. Boston (M–F 10am–6pm)
A small group of guests and supporters of H+H are invited to both a cocktail reception hosted by the Boston Athenæum before the concert and a dinner at the Somerset Club afterwards. The Bicentennial Concert is a special non-subscription program and is open to the public.
Harry Christophers, conductor
Ian Watson, organ
Guy Fishman, cello
Members of the H+H Chorus
Plainsong Veni creator spiritus
Byrd Laudibus in sanctis
Handel The King Shall Rejoice
Selections from The Old Colony Collection
Haydn The heavens are telling (from The Creation)
Handel “Hallelujah” chorus (from Messiah)
Saturday, November 21 at 7pm
58 Tremont Street, Boston