Handel’s greatest gift to us was of course his music, but he was in his own time an extremely generous benefactor of a number of charities. In 1738 he found the wife and children of one of his former oboists begging outside the Haymarket Theatre and this prompted him to found the “Fund for the Support of Decay’d Musicians” (now the Royal Society of Musicians) to provide for musicians in their old age or dependents after their death. On his death, he also left an extraordinary £1,000 (current value £110,000) to the charity.
Handel’s involvement with the Foundling Hospital is also well-known. In early May 1749 Handel attended a meeting of the Governors of the Foundling Hospital and offered to give a concert to raise money to finish the Chapel. As Charles Burney wrote, he was moved to support the worthy cause through “motives of the purest benevolence and humanity”. The concert took place later that month and included the first indoor performance of Music for the Royal Fireworks and an anthem written specially for the occasion, Blessed are they that considereth the poor and needy, now known as the Foundling Hospital Anthem. The event was a great success; it was attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales, attracted a capacity audience, and raised more than £350 for the charity (nearly £40,000 in today’s equivalent).
Handel’s association with the Foundling Hospital continued until his death. In 1750 he donated an organ to the Chapel to be used for a special performance of Messiah, and from that year onwards the oratorio was performed under his personal direction, until his sight failed him completely, on an annual basis for the Hospital’s benefit. It is estimated that within a decade Handel had generated income of £10,000 (over £1 million today). In his Will, Handel bequeathed to the Foundling Hospital a complete fair copy and parts of Messiah (the Foundling Hospital version), which allowed the annual fundraising concerts to continue.
Handel’s contemporaries were full of praise on learning that he had left significant legacies to the charities to which he had given so much support during his lifetime. “This is very much in character”, said Mrs Delany, Handel’s friend and neighbour, “he was a generous man and he cared very much about the future of his favourite charities”. His executor Mr Amyand MP said, “he understood the value in supporting causes dear to his heart. He wanted to make a difference”.
You might like to remember Handel House in your Will, or make a specific donation In Memoriam. A bequest may take the form of either a specific cash sum or a residual proportion of an estate. Please check with us when drawing up your Will to ensure that we are able to accept your bequest.
For more information please contact Elizabeth Nicholson on +44 (0)20 7495 1685 or email Elizabeth.