The Handel and Haydn Society
is a chorus and period instrument orchestra in the city of Boston, Massachusetts
. Founded in 1815
, it is one of the oldest performing arts organizations in the United States
. Most widely known for its performances of George Frideric Handel
the group gave its American premiere in 1818
and has performed the piece annually since 1854
. On September 26, 2008, the Society named Harry Christophers
to be the Society's new Artistic Director.
The Handel and Haydn Society was founded as an oratorio
society in 1815 by a group of Boston merchants eager to improve the performance of choral music in a city that, at the time, offered very little music of any kind. The name of the Society reflects the founders’ wish to bring Boston audiences the best of the old (Handel
) and the best of the new (Haydn
) in concerts of the highest artistic quality. From its earliest years, the Handel and Haydn Society established a tradition of innovation, performing the American premieres of Handel’s Messiah
in 1818, Haydn’s The Creation
in 1819, Verdi’s Requiem
in 1878, Amy Beach
's Mass in 1892, and numerous other works by Handel, Mozart
, Bach, and others.
The Society was also an early promoter of composer Lowell Mason, publishing his first collection of hymns and later electing him as the group's President. Mason's music was extremely influential and much of it is still performed today. He is best known for composing the music for the popular carol, Joy to the World. Mason was also instrumental in establishing music education in the United States.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Handel and Haydn staged music festivals to commemorate its own anniversaries and such significant events as the end of the Civil War. The Society organized America’s first great music festival in 1857, and in later years the gave benefit concerts to aid the Union Army, victims of the Chicago fire in 1871, and Russian Jewish refugees in 1882. Over the years, the Handel and Haydn Society has performed for such luminaries as President James Monroe, Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, Admiral Dewey, and Queen Elizabeth II.
Historically informed performance
By the mid 20th century, the Handel and Haydn Society had begun to move toward vocal and instrumental authenticity. In 1967, an acknowledged expert in baroque performance practice, Thomas Dunn
, became the Society's Artistic Director and transformed the group's large amateur chorus to 30 professional singers. In 1986, Christopher Hogwood
succeeded Mr. Dunn as Artistic Director and added period-instrument performances and a new verve to the high choral standards of the Society. In October 1986, Handel and Haydn presented its first period instrument orchestra concert under Mr. Hogwood’s baton, and by the 1989–90 season all of the Society's concerts were performed on period instruments. The Society has remained committed to historically informed performance
following the end of Hogwood's tenure as Artistic Director in the spring of 2001.
Welsh conductor Grant Llewellyn
joined Handel and Haydn in the 2001-2002 season as Music Director. Llewellyn did not have a background in period-instrument performance prior to joining the Society, but has won wide acclaim from critics and musicians for his energetic and compelling conducting. He has been noted for his charming personality, and for his ability to produce exceptional performances from the Society's musicians.
During his tenure as Music Director, the Society produced several recordings that have met with considerable commercial success, including Peace and All is Bright which both appeared on Billboard Magazine's Classical Top 10 chart. Handel and Haydn Society was also awarded its first Grammy Award for a collaboration with the San Francisco choral ensemble Chanticleer for 2003's recording of Sir John Tavener's Lamentations and Praises.
The Society also entered into a multi-year relationship with Chinese director Chen Shi-Zheng starting in 2003. This has yielded fully-staged productions of Monteverdi's Vespers (in 2003) and Orfeo (in 2006) that Chen sees as the start of a cycle of Monteverdi's surviving operas and his Vespers. 2006's Orfeo was co-produced by the English National Opera. Chen also directed a production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in 2005 for Handel and Haydn.
In July, 2007, the ensemble made a historic appearance at London's Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms concert series, presenting Haydn's oratorio Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons), with Roger Norrington conducting.
Prior to 1847, conducting duties fell to the President of the Society, who brought little to this role. Most of the actual conducting was done by the keyboardist or first violin in the orchestra. As the Society's ambitions grew, it became increasingly clear that it needed more established musical leadership. Over the years, the name of the title has changed several times, from simply Conductor to later titles of Artistic Director and Music Director.
- Charles E. Horn, 1847-1849
- J.E. Goodson, 1851-1852
- Carl Berghmann, 1852-1854
- Carl Zerrahn, 1854-1895 and 1897-1898
- B.J. Lang, 1895-1897
- Reinhold L. Herman, 1898-1899
- Emil Mollenhauer, 1900-1927
- Thompson Stone, 1927-1959
- Dr. Edward F. Gilday, 1959-1967
- Thomas Dunn, 1967-1986
- Christopher Hogwood, 1986-2001
- Grant Llewellyn, 2001-2006
- Harry Christophers, 2008-
Notable guest artists
The Handel and Haydn Society now has an On-Line Searchable Archive where anyone can look up their vast history of performances and artists. The Searchable Archive is a link off of their main page. All performances and artists from 1815 to the present day can be searched.