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A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Handel, Commemoration of

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HANDEL, COMMEMORATION OF. Early in 1783 three musical amateurs, Viscount Fitzwilliam, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, and Joah Bates, conceived the idea of celebrating the centenary of the birth of Handel (1684–5) by performing some of his works on a scale then unprecedented in England. The scheme being supported by the leading musical professors and the Directors of the Concert of Ancient Music (who undertook the arrangement of the performances), and warmly entered into by the King, it was determined to carry it into effect by giving two performances in Westminster Abbey (where Handel was buried), and one at the Pantheon. The first performance was given in the Abbey on Wednesday morning, May 26, 1784; it consisted of 'The Dettingen Te Deum,' one of the Coronation Anthems, one of the Chandos Anthems, part of the Funeral Anthem, and a few other fragments. The second was on Thursday evening, May 27, at the Pantheon, and comprised various songs and choruses, sacred and secular, four concertos and an overture. The third was at the Abbey on Saturday morning, May 29, when 'Messiah' was given. These performances were so attractive as to lead to s repetition of the first day's music, with some little variations, at the Abbey, on Thursday morning, June 3, and of 'Messiah,' at the same place, on Saturday morning, June 5. The orchestra (erected at the west end of the nave, and surmounted by an organ built for the occasion by Green) contained 525 performers, viz. 59 sopranos, 48 altos, 83 tenors, and 84 basses; 48 first and 47 second violins, 26 violas, 21 violoncellos, 15 double basses, 6 flutes, 26 oboes, 26 bassoons, 1 double bassoon, 12 trumpets, 12 horns, 6 trombones, 4 drums, and the conductor (at the organ), Joah Bates. The principal vocalists, who are included in the above enumeration, were Madame Mara, Miss Harwood, Miss Cantelo, Miss Abrams, Miss Theodosia Abrams, and Signor Bartolini; Rev. Mr. Clerk, Dyne, and Knyvett, altos; Harrison, Norris, and Corfe, tenors; Bellamy, Champness, Reinhold, Matthews, and Tasca, basses. The orchestra at the Pantheon consisted of 200 performers selected from those at the Abbey, and also included Signor Pacchierotti among the principal sopranos. The total receipts were £12,736 12s. 10d., and the total expenses £5,450 6s. 4d., leaving a surplus of £7,286 6s. 6d., which, after retaining £286 6s. 6d. to meet subsequent demands, was divided between the [App. p.665 "Royal"] Society of Musicians (£6,000), and the Westminster Hospital (£1,000). A mural tablet recording the event was placed in the Abbey above Handel's monument. In 1785 Dr. Burney published a quarto volume containing an Account of the Commemoration, with a Sketch of the Life of Handel, and plates, one of which repre sents his monument. In this the inscription is altered to support the assertion in the Life (made upon the alleged authority of Dr. Warren, who is asserted to have attended Handel in his last illness), that Handel died on Good Friday, April 13, and not on Saturday, April 14, 1759. Assuming Burney to have believed the unsupported statement of Dr. Warren, made 25 years after the event, in preference to the unanimous contemporary testimony to the contrary, still he could not but have been conscious that in putting forth that engraving of the monument he was circulating a misrepresentation. The matter is important, as Burney's date has been generally accepted, but it is too lengthy to be further entered upon here. The evidence proving Saturday, April 14, to be the true date may be seen stated in the Introduction to the Word Book of the Handel Festival, 1862, and Notes and Queries, 3rd Series, iii. 421 [App. p.665 "see p. 651b"].

The Commemoration of 1784 was followed by similar meetings at the Abbey, with more performers, in 1785, 86, 87, and 91. In the latter year the performers are said to have numbered 1068, but that number was probably made up by inserting the names of persons who performed alternately with others, so that the numbers engaged in any one performance did not much exceed those on the former occasions.

[ W. H. H. ]