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Handel and Haydn Society (Choir & Orchestra)

Founded: 1815 - Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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 USA. Most widely known for its performances of George Frideric Handel's Messiah, the group gave its American premiere in 1818 and has performed the piece annually since 1854.

The Handel and Haydn Society was founded as an oratorio society in Boston on April 20, 1815, by Gottlieb Graupner, Thomas Smith Webb, Amasa Winchester, and Matthew S. Parker, a group of Boston merchants and musicians who were 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 foundersí wish to bring Boston audiences the best of the old (G.F. Handel) and the best of the new (Haydn) in concerts of the highest artistic quality. The first performance by the Society was held on Christmas night in 1815 at King's Chapel, and included a chorus of 90 men and 10 women.

From its earliest years, the Handel and Haydn Society established a tradition of innovation, performing the American premieres of G.F. Handelís Messiah in 1818, Haydnís The Creation in 1819, Verdiís Requiem in 1878, Amy Beach's Mass in 1892, and numerous other works by G.F. Handel, Mozart, J.S. 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 USA.

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 Americaís first great music festival in 1857, and in later years 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.

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 into one of approximately 30 professional singers. In 1986, Christopher Hogwood succeeded Thomas 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 Christopher Hogwoodís baton, and by the 1989-1990 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 Christopher Hogwood's tenure as Artistic Director in the spring of 2001.

Handel and Haydn Society announced the appointment of Harry Christophers as Artistic Director on September 26, 2008. Harry Christophers, a regular guest conductor of the Society, began his tenure as Artistic Director with the 2009-2010 season and is the organizationís thirteenth artistic leader since its founding in 1815. The initial term of Harry Christophersí contract with the Society extends through the 2011-2012 season.

Harry Christophers has conducted the Handel and Haydn Society each season since his first appearance in September 2006, when he led a sold-out performance in the Esterházy Palace at the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria. Held in the same location where Haydn lived and worked for nearly 40 years, this Austrian appearance marked the Societyís first in Europe in its then 191-year history. Harry Christophers returned to conduct the Society in Boston in a critically acclaimed performance of G.F. Handelís Messiah in December 2007, followed by an appearance at Symphony Hall in January 2008. Founder and Music Director of the renowned UK-based choir and period-instrument orchestra, The Sixteen, he is also in demand as a guest conductor for leading orchestras and opera companies worldwide and in the USA.

Welsh conductor Grant Llewellyn joined Handel and Haydn in the 2001-2002 season as Music Director. Grant 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 the 2003 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. The 2006 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. Grant Llewellyn concluded his tenure in 2006.

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 Sir Roger Norrington conducting.

Artistic Leadership

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 (2009-present)

Source: Handel and Hayden Society Website; Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (January 2010)

Grant Llewellyn: Short Biography | Handel and Haydn Society | Recordings of Vocal Works

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Thomas Dunn

Choir & Orchestra

BWV 248

Links to other Sites

Handel and Hayden Society (Official Website)

Handel and Hayden Society (Wikipedia)


Johnson, H. Earle: "Handel and Haydn Society", in Hitchcock, H. Wiley and Stanley Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, II, (London: Macmillan Press, 1986), pp. 318

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