After hearing a performance of George Frideric Handelís Messiah in London in 1879, Olof Olsson, professor of theology at Augustana, founded the Augustana Oratorio Society. The first performance combined choirs from Moline, Rock Island, and Andover, Illinois with the Augustana Symphony Orchestra (also founded in 1879). In 1898, after a successful effort to enlist wide community participation, the organization was named the Handel Oratorio Society.
Since the turn of the century the Society has performed Messiah each Christmas. The annual spring oratorio explores the riches of the choral-orchestral literature. Past performances have included such works as J.S. Bachís Passion According to St. Matthew (BWV 244) and Mass in B Minor (BWV 232), Francis Poulencís Gloria , Felix Mendelssohnís Elijah and the Requiems of Johannes Brahms, Mozart, Verdi, Fauré, and Maurice Duruflé. The Musicians of the Handel Oratorio Society include community members, the Augustana Choir, the Augustana Symphony Orchestra, and invited soloists.