Messiah at the Foundling Hospital


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Messiah at the Foundling Hospital

Drama documentary recreating the first performance of Handel's Messiah at London's Foundling Hospital in 1750, presented by Amanda Vickery and Tom Service.


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# Hallelujah, hallelujah

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# Hallelujah, hallelujah

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# Hallelujah

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# Hallelujah, hallelujah

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# Hallelujah, hallelujah Hallelujah... #

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On 1st May 1750, the great and the good of London

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crowded into a chapel to listen to the music of the most

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celebrated composer of the day - George Frideric Handel.

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# For the Lord God, omnipotent reigneth... #

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But what they didn't realise was that this evening

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was about to make history.

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# For the Lord God, omnipotent reigneth... #

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This concert wasn't staged in a palace or a grand theatre.

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It was staged in the London Foundling Hospital and behind it was

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a ground-breaking idea -

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raising money to help the city's abandoned children.

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# Hallelujah... #

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This was a benefit concert on a massive scale,

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and at its heart was Handel's mighty Messiah.

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Today, Messiah ranks as the most popular piece of choral music

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in the world.

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And it contains a melody that's as recognisable as anything in music.

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Yet it wasn't always this way.

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In fact, Messiah started life as a controversial experiment.

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# And He shall reign for ever and ever... #

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And that it survived at all is thanks to a remarkable

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set of events, which not only transformed

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the fortunes of Messiah - but also changed us as a nation.

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At the heart of this story are two exceptional men.

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In this film, I'm going to find out how an ageing sea captain

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named Thomas Coram forced society

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to face up to the scandalous treatment of its vulnerable children.

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While I'll be discovering how the great composer Handel

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joined forces with Coram's trailblazing charity,

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and rescued his masterpiece Messiah in the process.

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# Hallelujah, hallelujah

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# Hallelujah, hallelujah

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# Hallelujah

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# Hallelujah. #

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Sometime in the year 1720, a weathered sea captain

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stepped off a boat in London's Docklands.

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His name was Thomas Coram.

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A man of humble origins, he had first gone to sea at the age of 11.

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And he'd spent much of his life as a shipbuilder in the New World of America.

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Now, after 40 years, Coram had come home.

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But what he saw on the streets of the great metropolis

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shocked him to the core.

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London was the national hub of commerce and culture.

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But beneath the glitter was the stench of overcrowding,

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poverty and disease.

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And all the time, the city kept growing,

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fuelled by a tide of migrant workers from the countryside.

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Most of the new arrivals were women lured by the prospect of work

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as domestic servants.

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But London was a city of hazard as well as opportunity.

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Some were sexually exploited by their employers -

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and if they fell pregnant, shown the door.

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Others conceived during courtship,

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in expectation of marriage.

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But in the anonymous maze of the big city, it was all too easy for a man

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to cut and run before his pregnant girlfriend reached the altar.

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Jobless and friendless, the outlook for single mothers in the city was bleak.

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Some survived by selling rags - or selling themselves.

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Quietening babies with gin was not unknown.

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With scant means to support their infants,

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some unmarried mothers were driven to desperate measures,

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abandoning their babies on the doorsteps of churches - or worse.

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'The long and melancholy experience of this nation has shown many

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'horrid cruelties committed on poor infant children.'

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Murders. Exposing newborns to perish in the street.

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Or by putting them out to wicked nurses who suffer them

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to starve for want of sustenance.

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A barbarity and a disgrace.

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In the 1720s, around 1,000 babies a year were being abandoned

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to their deaths in London.

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Thomas Coram was outraged.

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So he set out to establish an institution to feed, clothe

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and educate London's abandoned children.

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But it would take him another 20 years to achieve his dream.

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There was another London.

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Alongside its poverty and deprivation,

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the city was a booming centre of art, culture and music.

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At the very pinnacle of London's high culture was the opera -

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and one of its most feted composers was George Frideric Handel.

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Handel had come to England in the footsteps of his patron, Prince George of Hanover,

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who later became King George I.

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Handel knew that the English had had their appetite whetted for

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the delights of Italian opera, and he sensed that he could be

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just the man to show London's elite audiences what they'd been missing.

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And over the next three decades, that's exactly what he did.

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Here at Her Majesty's Theatre on the Haymarket,

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or the Queen's Theatre, as it was at the time, Handel

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pulled off an astonishing run of two dozen hit operas in just 15 years.

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Handel's lavish opera productions made him rich and famous

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and paid for a fancy town house in Mayfair with a finely stocked

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- and frequently replenished - wine cellar.

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But by the end of the 1730s, Handel's fortunes were on the turn.

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He may have been the greatest opera composer of his day,

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but Handel was also satirised for his German accent,

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and his propensity for fine living.

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And there was worse -

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in the late 1730s, opera was falling out of fashion in London.

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The indulgent excesses and overpaid foreign stars of Italian opera

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were mercilessly sent up in the popular theatre.

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For example, The Beggar's Opera, a satirical attack in English

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on the overblown conventions of Italian opera.

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To make matters worse still for Handel,

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a rival opera company appeared on the scene.

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And that meant you had two Italian opera companies

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competing for the same shrinking audience and shrinking cash.

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Handel - increasingly - was playing to an empty auditorium.

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By the late 1730s, the word on the street was that Handel was finished.

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# Comfort ye

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# Comfort ye my people... #

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Throughout the 1720s, Thomas Coram was a man on a mission -

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to raise support for a Foundling Hospital -

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a place where mothers could bring babies they were unable to care for.

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But everywhere he went, doors closed in his face.

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# Comfort ye my people... #

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The problem was that in the eyes of many people,

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an illegitimate baby was the very personification of sin.

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And in offering mothers an easy way out, Coram could be seen to be

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endorsing their wickedness.

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One sermoniser thundered that Coram's hospital would reflect...

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..dishonour upon the whole community.

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The foundling reflects the highest disgrace on human nature,

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and supposes a depravity,

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destructive of all social order and control.

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# Speak ye comfortably

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# To Jerusalem

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# And cry unto her

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# That her warfare... #

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Coram was too bloody-minded to let narrow prejudice deflect him.

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The institution that he would eventually establish no longer stands.

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But Coram's portrait now hangs at the museum built on the site.

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So here he is - Coram, the man himself.

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I'm really struck that this is not your classic aristocratic-swagger portrait.

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Do you think the painting expresses the kind of man that he is?

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Absolutely. I think the fact that he is shown with his own hair -

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there's no wig - he very clearly has a face that's seen a life at sea

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and outdoors and is, you know, ruddy and sun-blasted.

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His coat is rumpled, his feet barely touch the ground,

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he seems to be anxious to get up and go and get away from the sitting -

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and he was - he was a can-do man.

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The casual cruelty to children is one of the striking features,

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isn't it, of the 18th century, you know, the sheer sort of wastefulness of life?

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Absolutely. There was really nothing that we understand as being

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a kind of a welfare system for very poor families to fall back on.

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And there were basically no options.

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There was the Poor Law and that was under massive pressure,

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and workhouses from 1722

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but there was upwards of a 95% mortality rate

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for children under five in a workhouse, so...

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and I think Coram saw these children exactly as that -

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as a waste, a wasted resource for the country.

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You need to be quite an awkward, sort of quite angry person,

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really, to effect social change.

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I think so. I think it's just the most extraordinary determination,

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because in those days you couldn't just go, "I want to set up a charity - right, I'll do it."

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You needed a Royal Charter from the king to do something like that

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and that, for Coram, was an extraordinary mountain to climb.

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We know very little about his origins

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but they were respectable but humble.

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He didn't have the connections, he didn't have extreme wealth

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but he had this incredible single-mindedness and

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perseverance and just determination that he wouldn't take no for an answer.

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He would just keep going.

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For seven years, Coram's appeals to the wealthy

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and powerful fell on deaf ears.

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Then in 1729, he had a moment of inspiration,

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which took him to the home of the Duke of Somerset.

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And he was aiming high.

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The Duke of Somerset was the richest

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and most prominent aristocrat in the country.

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But Coram hadn't come to nobble the proud duke.

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He had an altogether softer target in his sights.

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Oh, look! She's tucked up at the back!

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This is Lady Somerset,

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tucked away in this rather cold storeroom.

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She's certainly not given pride of place.

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So why has Coram come to see the mistress of the house -

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not the master?

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I think Coram's being quite canny here.

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She was still a teenager when she became a mother,

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so when Coram came to call,

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she still had a babe in arms.

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He must have suspected she would be moved

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by the plight of those poor unloved babies.

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But finally, you've got this new fashion called

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the cult of sensibility

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whereby the fashionable wanted to express their refinement

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by being interested in the plight and the sufferings of the poor,

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of children, of babies.

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So the teenaged mother

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on the cusp of fashion

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married to the richest man in England

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might be just the woman to launch his campaign.

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Coram's hunch paid off.

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History doesn't record the details of their conversation

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but we do know that by the time he left Petworth,

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Coram had his first sponsor.

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Coram not only had the name of the Duchess of Somerset

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flourishing on the top of his petition to present to the king -

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he also had wedged his foot in the door.

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He had a precious entree within that tight cabal of power

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and influence that dominated Georgian society.

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# Every valley

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# Every valley shall be exalted

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# Shall be exalted

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# Shall be exalted

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# Shall be exalted

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# And every mountain and hill made low

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# The crooked straight

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# And the rough places plain

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# The crooked straight

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# The crooked straight

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# And the rough places plain. #

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With Handel's opulent Italian operas playing to empty

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houses in London, in 1733 the composer travelled to Oxford.

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He had come here to the Sheldonian Theatre to stage

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a new season of performances.

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But the work he brought with him wasn't Italian opera.

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Handel had begun to experiment with a different musical form -

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one which combined the drama of opera

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with his genius for choral music.

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And which, most importantly of all, was in English -

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the phenomenon of the oratorio.

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So where we are now, the Sheldonian Theatre, in 1733,

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Handel travels here and puts on effectively a mini oratorio festival

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on the boards that we're standing on now.

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Who would've heard oratorios and what would they have heard?

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An oratorio, fundamentally, is a sacred drama.

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It's a drama that takes stories from the Bible -

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in England, particularly, Old Testament stories.

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And those sacred stories are then put on stage

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as dramatic presentations.

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But also crucially, Handel's oratorios are in English -

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and they're about stories that everyone knew, in a way that they

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didn't know the stories that were the kind of fodder for Italian opera,

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the stories of ancient Rome

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and ancient Greece and foreign cultures.

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And that means that they are accessible to a much wider audience

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than the Italian operas are.

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Is there a canny populist sense behind this for Handel, then?

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He wants this music to be used,

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he can sense there must be a market, and the fact that it was in English.

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The fact that it was in English was really telling

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in the context of 1730s London, because right

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from Handel's arrival in the first decade of the 18th century,

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people had been putting pressure on him to mount opera in English.

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Now actually, this was much better.

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Rather than doing opera in English,

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here he was doing stories that everyone in the country would know.

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So they had enormous potential appeal.

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Crucially, he didn't have to spend the money on sets, on costumes,

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on all of the kind of apparatus of production -

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it meant that you could bring oratorio

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to a place like the Sheldonian Theatre and mount it.

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And at the time it was really quite revolutionary.

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So it was a way of saying to an emerging mercantile or middle class,

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"Look - you, too, can hear..." what was otherwise reserved

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-for the uber-aristocracy or royalty itself?

-Yes. Absolutely.

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Handel's first English oratorio, Esther,

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was performed here in 1733 and it went down a storm

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with audiences hungry for a new kind of choral music.

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Then in 1741, Handel received a libretto for a new oratorio

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and it was unlike anything that had been written before.

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'Handel says he will do nothing this winter

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'but I hope I shall persuade him to set a Scripture collection

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'I have made for him.'

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I hope he will lay out his whole genius and skill upon it,

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that the composition may excel all his former compositions,

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as the subject excels every other subject.

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The subject is Messiah.

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The libretto's author was a wealthy landowner

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and fundamentalist Christian curmudgeon named Charles Jennens.

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Now, it was Jennens' mission in life

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to stop what he saw as the rot in 18th-century society.

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He thought Christian values were being debased in public life,

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and he realised that if he could get the country's most famous composer

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to write music for his words,

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it could give his evangelical mission just the fillip it needed.

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'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith the Lord.

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'Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,

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'and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplish'd.'

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The libretto is divided into three parts -

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in the first, the Prophets tell of the coming of the Messiah.

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'Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son'

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and shall call his name Emmanuel.

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Part two depicts Christ's Passion and Resurrection.

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This is the work's emotional core.

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'He was despis'd and rejected of men, a man of sorrows,

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'and acquainted with grief.'

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The third and final part presents a divine

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vision of the world following Christ's death and resurrection.

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Behold, we shall not sleep,

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but we shall be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.

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Now, what's new and different about Jennens' text is how abstract it is.

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The words are a meditation

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on the spiritual power of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

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And that's the exact opposite of something like, say, Bach's Passions

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which humanise Jesus' story

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by dramatising the events of the crucifixion.

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In Messiah, by contrast, there are no characters and there's no clear drama.

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It is, in other words, really pretty baffling.

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It's by no means clear from its text

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what Messiah ought to have become musically and dramatically speaking.

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How do you bring these words to life?

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How do you create a compelling sense of momentum, of musical

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and narrative power?

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# Glory to God, glory to God

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# In the highest... #

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On 20th of November 1739, Thomas Coram arrived

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here at Somerset House in London for a momentous occasion.

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# Glory to God, glory to God

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# Glory to God in the highest... #

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With the backing of the Duchess of Somerset

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and her fashionable friends, Coram had won the support

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of 172 of the most influential members of Georgian high society.

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# Glory to the Lord's name... #

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# Glory to the Lord's name... #

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It was something the king could no longer ignore.

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# Glory to God

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# Glory to God in the highest...

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After 17 years of struggle, Coram had his Royal Charter.

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I've tracked down a compelling record of his battle

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in the London Metropolitan Archives.

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What I've got here is something rather wonderful.

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It's Thomas Coram's own pocket book.

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In his own hand, a record of his great success,

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building momentum, a head of steam for his campaign.

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The Duchess of Somerset at Petworth, the Duchess of Bolton,

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the Duchess Dowager of Bolton, the Duchess of Richmond.

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So here we have this extraordinary roster

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of the great ladies of the land -

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duchess after duchess, lady after lady, countess after countess.

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But slowly, we see that he's beginning to hook the men.

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By 1734, he's got the Duke of Richmond.

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It goes on and on and on.

0:24:210:24:24

This is proud testimony of his success as a campaigner.

0:24:240:24:30

-# Good will

-Good will

0:24:310:24:33

-# Good will

-Good will

0:24:330:24:34

-# Good will

-Good will towards men

0:24:340:24:39

# Good will towards men... #

0:24:390:24:45

Funded by its wealthy patrons,

0:24:460:24:49

the Foundling Hospital opened its gates 18 months later.

0:24:490:24:53

Initially in temporary quarters, and then at a purpose-built site

0:24:530:24:58

on the northern edges of the city in what is now London's Bloomsbury.

0:24:580:25:02

Although the building no longer stands today, contemporary images

0:25:060:25:10

show the scale and ambition of Coram's ground-breaking charity.

0:25:100:25:16

The key to getting mothers to come forward was anonymity.

0:25:160:25:20

Advertisements assured women they would not be identified.

0:25:200:25:25

And the gates were even opened under cover of darkness

0:25:250:25:29

to encourage mothers who might otherwise feel ashamed.

0:25:290:25:33

The governors' plan worked.

0:25:340:25:36

Mothers flocked to the hospital gates.

0:25:360:25:39

From the very first night, there were more babies than places.

0:25:390:25:43

'They found a great number of people crowding about the door,

0:25:450:25:49

'many with children and others for curiosity.

0:25:490:25:52

'The expressions of grief of the women whose children could

0:25:520:25:55

'not be admitted were scarcely more observable than

0:25:550:25:59

'those of the women who parted with their children.

0:25:590:26:01

'A more moving scene can't well be imagined.'

0:26:010:26:05

And come forward, please.

0:26:070:26:09

And how old is he?

0:26:140:26:15

Seven weeks.

0:26:170:26:18

Is he baptised?

0:26:220:26:23

Which parish?

0:26:250:26:27

St Giles.

0:26:290:26:31

Could I have a look, please?

0:26:340:26:36

BABY CRIES

0:26:390:26:41

Does he have any distinguishing marks?

0:26:410:26:44

No.

0:26:440:26:46

Only babies under two months were admitted.

0:26:460:26:49

Those carrying signs of disease were turned away.

0:26:490:26:52

Could you pass him over to matron now, please?

0:26:520:26:54

What - I don't get to say goodbye?

0:26:560:26:57

I love you so much.

0:27:040:27:05

Each baby was given a new name and baptised.

0:27:120:27:15

Its previous identity and any blemish of sin was washed away.

0:27:170:27:22

The child was reborn in the care of the hospital.

0:27:220:27:26

The records of every child, known as billets, are preserved

0:27:330:27:37

in a treasure trove which survives in the hospital archives today.

0:27:370:27:41

This extraordinary document is one of the Foundling Hospital's billet books.

0:27:420:27:50

Each one of these represents a baby under two months old

0:27:500:27:57

and pinned to this document is a tiny piece of fabric.

0:27:570:28:02

This is the only thing she could use

0:28:020:28:06

to claim back her baby if her circumstances ever improved.

0:28:060:28:12

One of the things these billet books reveal

0:28:120:28:14

is that it wasn't only the babies of single white mothers

0:28:140:28:18

who found a new life at Coram's hospital.

0:28:180:28:20

This billet for a male child,

0:28:220:28:26

left on May 23rd, 1746,

0:28:260:28:30

interestingly has a letter -

0:28:300:28:33

"Gentlemen, the parents of this holy infant is not in a capacity of maintaining it at present."

0:28:330:28:41

So this baby seems to have been given up by a couple.

0:28:430:28:47

This is an interesting entry.

0:28:490:28:52

May 8th, 1741.

0:28:520:28:55

A male child about a week old,

0:28:550:28:58

"neatly dressed,

0:28:580:29:01

"of a very tawny complexion".

0:29:010:29:05

This little boy was probably black -

0:29:050:29:08

there would be quite a few black children, or children of mixed race

0:29:080:29:14

on the streets of 18th-century London.

0:29:140:29:18

The overseers always took a piece of fabric.

0:29:180:29:23

But some women came forward with tokens as well.

0:29:230:29:28

All of these tokens are expressions of maternal hope.

0:29:280:29:33

This one is particularly tragic.

0:29:350:29:40

This is a hazelnut shell

0:29:410:29:45

which bespeaks the poverty of the women

0:29:450:29:50

who had to give up their babies.

0:29:500:29:52

Perhaps this woman was illiterate. This was all that she could offer.

0:29:520:29:57

So although I don't believe that any woman ever gave up her baby lightly,

0:29:580:30:07

I do think that some of these women

0:30:070:30:10

probably gave their babies in good faith,

0:30:100:30:13

in the belief that the Foundling Hospital would give them a better life.

0:30:130:30:17

# How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace

0:30:320:30:41

# How beautiful are the feet

0:30:410:30:47

# How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace... #

0:30:470:30:57

In the summer of 1741, while the first babies were being

0:30:580:31:01

admitted to the Foundling Hospital, Handel was sitting down to

0:31:010:31:05

write the first notes of Messiah.

0:31:050:31:08

Handel attacked the work with his customary zeal.

0:31:090:31:13

In the first six days alone, he drafted 100 pages.

0:31:130:31:18

And he completed the entire work -

0:31:180:31:20

that's two and a half hours of music - in just 24 days.

0:31:200:31:24

That is astonishing, by any standards.

0:31:240:31:28

# And bring glad tidings

0:31:280:31:31

# Good tidings of good things

0:31:310:31:35

# And bring glad tidings

0:31:350:31:41

# Glad tidings of good peace

0:31:410:31:45

# Glad tidings of good peace. #

0:31:450:31:52

But what is it about the music of Messiah

0:32:040:32:07

that makes it such an enduring work?

0:32:070:32:09

David, the real thing about Messiah is its music.

0:32:130:32:16

Why is it so special?

0:32:160:32:17

What I find in Handel's Messiah is grace,

0:32:170:32:22

monumentality and mystery

0:32:220:32:24

and those are three things quite rare in music

0:32:240:32:27

and they all come together in this marvellous piece.

0:32:270:32:30

-For example, "How Beautiful".

-HE HUMS

0:32:300:32:34

-Handel picks up on that...

-PIANO

0:32:340:32:38

..rhythm of the word "beautiful"

0:32:380:32:40

and then he plays with it, he plays with it in the simplest way.

0:32:400:32:43

We get...

0:32:430:32:45

-PIANO

-.."beautiful, beautiful",

0:32:450:32:48

and then he plays with "beautiful" once, and "beautiful" twice

0:32:480:32:51

and then we get beautiful different.

0:32:510:32:53

PIANO

0:32:530:32:55

So he can think of different simplicities and he can sort of balance its simplicities

0:32:550:33:00

to make a gracefulness and that simplicity feeds in

0:33:000:33:03

to his ability to be monumental because I suppose the most

0:33:030:33:06

monumental piece is the Hallelujah Chorus, I mean, that's the one

0:33:060:33:10

that we all love, and that's all based on this great...

0:33:100:33:13

PIANO

0:33:130:33:16

That sort of thing.

0:33:160:33:17

And then of course he mysteriises other things.

0:33:170:33:20

-My favourite bit, I mean, the key to the whole thing...

-Your favourite bit of the whole piece?

0:33:200:33:24

The whole piece - is "Behold, I tell you a mystery..."

0:33:240:33:29

That is marvellous. Now what another composer might have done,

0:33:290:33:32

where he might have used four chords, he uses only two.

0:33:320:33:36

So for example, what you might have expected,

0:33:360:33:39

"Behold, I tell you a mystery..."

0:33:390:33:43

Still very beautiful.

0:33:430:33:44

But...very beautiful but not as mysterious as

0:33:440:33:47

"Behold, I..." The chord doesn't change.

0:33:470:33:52

"..tell you a mystery..."

0:33:520:33:55

It doesn't drop its gaze and we are left hanging on his lips.

0:33:550:33:58

What is this mystery?

0:33:580:33:59

And that, I think, is one of the great moments of all music.

0:33:590:34:02

And this, of course, is Handel dramatising himself into his own oratorio.

0:34:020:34:06

Handel the master storyteller, Handel the composer of operas.

0:34:060:34:10

# Behold, I tell you a mystery... #

0:34:100:34:21

# We shall not all sleep

0:34:210:34:26

# But we shall all be changed in a moment

0:34:260:34:30

# In the twinkling of an eye

0:34:300:34:35

# At the last trumpet... #

0:34:350:34:40

The really moving thing for me about the music of the Messiah

0:34:420:34:45

is that it's a kind of lightning rod that connects

0:34:450:34:49

the surface of the Earth with the world of the spirit

0:34:490:34:52

and the musical energy moves both ways all the time.

0:34:520:34:55

Handel can write the most deeply sensual operatic music and have

0:34:550:34:59

it yet mean something spiritual, be part of the telling of the story of Christ's life.

0:34:590:35:03

He's also telling our story, he's also telling a human story

0:35:030:35:06

and it's because it's formed from this unique oratorio collision

0:35:060:35:11

of the world of the opera house and the world of choral music and

0:35:110:35:14

the world of Christian meditation that the Messiah is so moving.

0:35:140:35:19

While Handel was composing Messiah,

0:35:220:35:24

Coram's hospital was struggling with the realities

0:35:240:35:27

of rearing its foundlings.

0:35:270:35:29

The aim was to provide a humble, but practical education

0:35:300:35:35

to turn out useful citizens -

0:35:350:35:38

soldiers, servants and skilled labourers.

0:35:380:35:41

But the scale of the challenge ahead soon became clear.

0:35:410:35:46

At the beginning, the way they went about trying

0:35:460:35:49

to set the hospital up, you know,

0:35:490:35:51

nobody had any experience of what to do. It was a huge enterprise

0:35:510:35:55

and everything had to be fundraised -

0:35:550:35:57

from the clothes and food, laundry bills, the nurses,

0:35:570:36:00

the wet nursing and the inspectors -

0:36:000:36:02

it was a very big enterprise.

0:36:020:36:04

The records say that very often there would be 100 babies

0:36:040:36:07

being brought on an admission day

0:36:070:36:09

when there were only 20 places available.

0:36:090:36:12

Coram's hospital had to cope with huge demand

0:36:130:36:16

and relentless financial pressure.

0:36:160:36:19

Just keeping their foundlings alive was an achievement in itself.

0:36:190:36:24

In the general population, for children under five,

0:36:250:36:28

there were high mortality rates.

0:36:280:36:30

So, for any child to grow up, it was no mean feat

0:36:300:36:35

and it was the same for children in the Foundling Hospital,

0:36:350:36:37

so a lot of the children, when they were admitted, were incredibly sickly already,

0:36:370:36:41

so some of them only survived for a matter of hours or days

0:36:410:36:45

after admittance before they actually died.

0:36:450:36:47

Coram and his colleagues may have won the battle to open the hospital,

0:36:500:36:55

but they were going to need more resources

0:36:550:36:57

to give the children the best chance of survival.

0:36:570:37:00

The records show that in the early years,

0:37:000:37:03

more than half the babies died before their second birthday.

0:37:030:37:06

It's a terrible record of loss.

0:37:090:37:11

If you look in the registers for each child, again and again,

0:37:110:37:16

in the right-hand column, you see the terrible litany...

0:37:160:37:20

..dead, dead, dead.

0:37:210:37:24

In the winter of 1741, Handel prepared to unveil

0:37:280:37:32

his new oratorio to the world.

0:37:320:37:35

But he decided not to premiere it in the capital.

0:37:350:37:39

In an attempt to revitalise his flagging fortunes,

0:37:390:37:42

and fed up with London,

0:37:420:37:44

Handel travelled to Britain's second city of culture, Dublin,

0:37:440:37:48

for Messiah's first performance.

0:37:480:37:51

Handel hoped that this fresh start would restore

0:37:510:37:54

a sense of purpose to his music and introduce him to a new public.

0:37:540:37:59

Crucially, it would also allow his music to be really useful in society.

0:37:590:38:03

All of the proceeds would go to charity.

0:38:030:38:06

Instead of the self-indulgent glutton

0:38:060:38:09

that some had dubbed him in London,

0:38:090:38:11

in Dublin, Handel could restyle himself

0:38:110:38:14

famous philanthropist as well as famous composer.

0:38:140:38:17

# Surely, surely

0:38:220:38:25

# He hath borne our griefs

0:38:250:38:30

# And carried our sorrows

0:38:300:38:34

# Surely

0:38:340:38:35

# Surely

0:38:350:38:37

# He hath borne our griefs

0:38:370:38:41

# And carried our sorrows... #

0:38:410:38:45

Handel's experimental oratorio was an immediate triumph in Dublin.

0:38:460:38:51

But the trip cost him dear.

0:38:510:38:55

Handel had gone to Ireland without so much as telling his librettist.

0:38:550:38:59

Jennens, who wanted a metropolitan premiere, was furious -

0:38:590:39:03

and not just about the performance.

0:39:030:39:05

Unbelievably for us today,

0:39:050:39:06

Jennens thought that Handel's music simply didn't do his words justice.

0:39:060:39:11

# ..For our iniquities

0:39:110:39:16

# The chastisement

0:39:170:39:20

-# The chastisement

-The chastisement

0:39:200:39:25

# Of our peace

0:39:250:39:30

# Was upon Him. #

0:39:300:39:38

This was the start of a damaging feud between the two men.

0:39:460:39:51

But Handel's problems just kept coming.

0:39:510:39:53

Back in London, in 1743, Handel planned a performance of Messiah

0:39:530:39:58

at the Opera House here, at Covent Garden.

0:39:580:40:01

But what happened next didn't exactly replicate the glories

0:40:010:40:05

of the Dublin performance.

0:40:050:40:06

"An oratorio is either an act of religion or it is not.

0:40:100:40:14

"If it is, I ask if the playhouse is a fit temple to perform it in

0:40:140:40:18

"or a company of players fit ministers of God's Word.

0:40:180:40:22

"What a profanation of God's name and Word is this,

0:40:220:40:26

"to make so light use of them!"

0:40:260:40:28

Before a single note had even been played,

0:40:310:40:33

Messiah was publicly denounced.

0:40:330:40:36

In fact, the controversy was so fierce

0:40:360:40:38

that Handel was forced to remove the name of the piece

0:40:380:40:41

from his posters - he called it instead, simply, a Sacred Oratorio.

0:40:410:40:45

It's about the Messiah, it's about Christ,

0:40:500:40:53

you know, you can't get a hotter topic.

0:40:530:40:56

Britain's been through the puritan reformations,

0:40:560:41:00

so it still has very strong elements within British society

0:41:000:41:05

that really don't think you should be singing

0:41:050:41:08

or putting into an opera house stories about the Bible.

0:41:080:41:12

It points to something that we rarely think about now

0:41:120:41:15

when the Messiah is so familiar, so performed,

0:41:150:41:17

is how controversial a piece this really is.

0:41:170:41:20

These were theatre singers.

0:41:200:41:22

Anyone working in the theatre was seen to be of loose morals

0:41:220:41:26

or a little bit suspect, so the idea that theatre singers would be

0:41:260:41:31

performing biblical words, performing words about the life of Christ,

0:41:310:41:35

for some audience members was just too much.

0:41:350:41:38

After 1743, performances of Messiah were few and far between.

0:42:000:42:06

The damage done to Handel's reputation was serious.

0:42:060:42:09

But that was nothing compared to what it did to his health.

0:42:090:42:13

# He was despised

0:42:250:42:30

# Despised and rejected

0:42:370:42:43

# Rejected of men

0:42:480:42:55

# A man of sorrows

0:42:590:43:06

# A man of sorrows

0:43:100:43:17

# And acquainted with grief

0:43:170:43:27

# A man of sorrows

0:43:270:43:33

# And acquainted with grief... #

0:43:330:43:40

Over-work and stress took their toll.

0:43:430:43:46

And in May 1743, the hearty German bon viveur was felled by illness.

0:43:470:43:54

Messiah seemed to have fallen into obscurity

0:43:540:43:57

and Handel was close to death.

0:43:570:43:59

# He was despised... #

0:44:010:44:05

As the Daily Advertiser noted, "Mr Handel is dangerously unwell.

0:44:050:44:10

"He has had a palsy and can't compose.

0:44:100:44:13

"He is much out of order in his body and a little in his head."

0:44:130:44:18

# ..He was despised

0:44:180:44:20

# And rejected of men

0:44:200:44:26

# A man of sorrows

0:44:260:44:32

# And acquainted with grief

0:44:320:44:42

# A man of sorrows

0:44:430:44:49

# And acquainted with grief. #

0:44:490:44:56

At the end of 1743, it wasn't only Handel who was at a low ebb.

0:45:000:45:06

Thomas Coram had also tasted bitterness.

0:45:060:45:09

Stubborn and outspoken to the last, he had become embroiled in a dispute

0:45:100:45:16

with the very institution that he had helped to build.

0:45:160:45:20

Coram fell out with the hospital

0:45:200:45:22

after questioning the honesty of one of the governors

0:45:220:45:25

and he was ejected from the board.

0:45:250:45:27

Now aged 74, Coram retired

0:45:330:45:36

to his humble lodgings here in Leicester Square.

0:45:360:45:40

But before he left, Coram had taken a step that would transform

0:45:430:45:48

not just the hospital, but the world of charity as we know it.

0:45:480:45:52

William Hogarth was one of London's leading artists,

0:45:530:45:57

a crusading moralist and satirist,

0:45:570:46:01

who had done more than any other to highlight social injustice.

0:46:010:46:05

He delighted in exposing the hypocrisy of London's high life

0:46:050:46:10

and the desperation of the low.

0:46:100:46:12

By lucky chance, Hogarth's studio was just a few doors away

0:46:150:46:19

from Coram's rooms in Leicester Square.

0:46:190:46:21

It's not known when Hogarth and Coram first met,

0:46:230:46:27

but it was Hogarth who painted Coram's magnificent portrait.

0:46:270:46:31

And if, in Thomas Coram,

0:46:330:46:36

the hospital had lost its inspirational founding father -

0:46:360:46:40

in William Hogarth it had found a new champion, who would draw

0:46:400:46:44

the chattering classes to the hospital.

0:46:440:46:47

Hogarth was running the only art school in London at the time

0:46:490:46:53

and he basically approached all of his tutors

0:46:530:46:55

and some of his students, like the 21-year-old Thomas Gainsborough,

0:46:550:46:59

to produce work and give it to the hospital

0:46:590:47:01

and it would serve two purposes.

0:47:010:47:03

One, you had a huge new public building

0:47:030:47:06

with all of this empty wall space

0:47:060:47:08

that was trying to attract the public to come and see its work.

0:47:080:47:11

But also, you had contemporary British artists who were trying

0:47:110:47:14

to establish themselves at a time when everyone was buying

0:47:140:47:17

Italian and French and going on the Grand Tour

0:47:170:47:20

and they needed to show the art-buying classes

0:47:200:47:23

what they could do, what British artists could do.

0:47:230:47:26

So it was enlightened self-interest,

0:47:260:47:27

they were both supporting the charity and promoting themselves as artists.

0:47:270:47:31

That fusion of art and charity, is that new?

0:47:310:47:35

It is completely new and it is extraordinary.

0:47:350:47:37

This was about encouraging all the leading artists of the day

0:47:370:47:41

to donate work to the Foundling Hospital to raise its profile,

0:47:410:47:45

to give people a reason for coming

0:47:450:47:47

and then, having come to the hospital, seen the work

0:47:470:47:50

that the charity was doing, they would be encouraged to donate.

0:47:500:47:53

Thanks to the efforts of Hogarth,

0:47:590:48:01

and contemporaries such as Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds,

0:48:010:48:04

the Foundling Hospital developed into nothing less

0:48:040:48:08

than Britain's first public art gallery.

0:48:080:48:11

That meant more visitors and more donations.

0:48:110:48:16

..Who art in Heaven

0:48:160:48:18

give us this day our daily bread

0:48:180:48:21

and forgive us our trespasses

0:48:210:48:23

as we forgive those who trespass against us...

0:48:230:48:27

And with the charming spectacle of the rescued foundlings themselves

0:48:280:48:33

at work and prayer, the hospital became

0:48:330:48:37

a tourist attraction for the elite.

0:48:370:48:39

..from evil.

0:48:390:48:40

For Thine is the kingdom,

0:48:400:48:42

the power and the glory

0:48:420:48:44

for ever and ever. Amen.

0:48:440:48:47

The Foundling Hospital was the social highlight,

0:48:470:48:49

something you did of a weekend, it was a place to see and be seen.

0:48:490:48:53

And, you know, coming to church service on a Sunday

0:48:530:48:57

at the Foundling Hospital was an incredibly fashionable thing to do.

0:48:570:49:01

It's interesting that Hogarth's first act,

0:49:010:49:04

creative act, for the hospital was not to give a painting -

0:49:040:49:07

he came up with a coat of arms, the brand effectively,

0:49:070:49:10

and I love the fact that the motto of the coat of arms was not long,

0:49:100:49:15

and not in Latin, it was a single word and the world was "help".

0:49:150:49:19

Totally blunt, totally to the point.

0:49:190:49:21

-So modern.

-So modern, and it always reminds me of

0:49:210:49:24

when you think of Bob Geldof and the Live Aid concert and for those of us

0:49:240:49:27

who are old enough to remember, there was an electrifying moment

0:49:270:49:31

where Geldof turned to the cameras and on live TV,

0:49:310:49:34

because the bands were playing their hearts out,

0:49:340:49:36

but people weren't giving the money,

0:49:360:49:38

and he looked down the camera lens and said, "Give us your effing money."

0:49:380:49:41

Charity had been a Christian duty for centuries,

0:49:470:49:52

but thanks to the work of Thomas Coram,

0:49:520:49:54

and his cultural coalition, charity became cool.

0:49:540:49:59

A show of public benevolence made you feel good, but also look good.

0:50:050:50:10

And with the Foundling Hospital now on the cultural map,

0:50:100:50:13

it wasn't long before the country's greatest composer had a brainwave.

0:50:130:50:17

After the fiasco of its performance at Covent Garden in 1743,

0:50:200:50:24

Messiah had been all but neglected.

0:50:240:50:27

But Handel hadn't given up on it.

0:50:270:50:29

And in 1749, he approached the governors

0:50:290:50:31

of the Foundling Hospital with a bold idea.

0:50:310:50:34

Handel suggested a special charity performance of Messiah.

0:50:370:50:41

This would be another chance to have his work heard

0:50:410:50:44

by London's fashionable set,

0:50:440:50:46

and it could help to salvage his controversial oratorio.

0:50:460:50:50

The governors seized on his idea.

0:50:510:50:54

The stamp of the great composer would be invaluable PR.

0:50:540:50:58

But more than this,

0:50:580:50:59

if the benefit concert succeeded, it would raise vital funds

0:50:590:51:04

to complete their chapel, which, although open, remained unfinished.

0:51:040:51:08

The Dublin premiere of Messiah had consecrated the idea of Handel

0:51:100:51:14

as a man of charity.

0:51:140:51:16

And with the hospital still desperately short of money,

0:51:160:51:19

this was the opportunity that Handel was looking for

0:51:190:51:22

to brand his sacred oratorio as a musical good work.

0:51:220:51:26

The date for the performance of Messiah was set -

0:51:260:51:29

Sunday the 1st of May, 1750.

0:51:290:51:33

Tickets went on sale at London's most exclusive coffee shops.

0:51:350:51:40

Hogarth came up with an added attraction -

0:51:430:51:46

offering one of his paintings as the prize in a lottery draw -

0:51:460:51:50

with the winner to be announced on the day before the concert.

0:51:500:51:55

Better still, this would be the first-ever performance of Messiah

0:51:550:51:59

in a place of worship - surely nobody could object.

0:51:590:52:02

But would it be a success?

0:52:040:52:06

The reputation of Handel and his oratorio was on the line,

0:52:060:52:11

and the pulling power of the hospital about to be tested.

0:52:110:52:15

BELLS RING

0:52:180:52:22

The hospital governors needn't have worried.

0:52:400:52:43

The concert was a sell-out.

0:52:440:52:46

Demand for space was so high

0:52:510:52:53

that ladies were even asked to come without their hoops,

0:52:530:52:56

and gentlemen to leave their swords at home.

0:52:560:53:00

Coram's Foundling Hospital, Hogarth's art,

0:53:050:53:09

and Handel and his visionary oratorio

0:53:090:53:12

were about to come together to make history.

0:53:120:53:15

When Thomas Coram set out on his crusade

0:53:500:53:53

a quarter of a century earlier,

0:53:530:53:55

he had been a lone voice waging a thankless battle.

0:53:550:53:59

But now, the foundlings were the most fashionable cause in London.

0:53:590:54:02

In fact, so many "persons of distinction" were attracted

0:54:020:54:06

by the combination of Messiah, the Foundling Hospital

0:54:060:54:09

and a public display of their big-heartedness

0:54:090:54:11

that they gate-crashed the concert.

0:54:110:54:14

No surprise, really.

0:54:140:54:16

Forget the opera - in May 1750,

0:54:160:54:18

the Foundling Hospital was the place to see and be seen.

0:54:180:54:22

And to give some money to a good cause, of course.

0:54:220:54:25

# For unto us a child is born

0:54:260:54:28

# Unto us

0:54:280:54:30

# A child is given

0:54:300:54:32

# Unto us, a son is given

0:54:320:54:37

# For unto us a child is born

0:54:370:54:39

# For unto us a child is born

0:54:390:54:41

# Unto us a son is given

0:54:410:54:45

# Unto us

0:54:450:54:47

# A son is born

0:54:470:54:49

# For unto us a child is born

0:54:490:54:52

# For unto us a child is born

0:54:520:54:54

# Unto us

0:54:540:54:55

# A son is given

0:54:550:54:57

# Unto us a son is given

0:54:580:55:01

# Unto us a son is given

0:55:010:55:04

# A son is given

0:55:040:55:05

# And the government shall be upon his shoulder

0:55:050:55:10

# And the government shall be upon his shoulder

0:55:100:55:15

# And the government shall be upon his shoulder

0:55:150:55:18

# And his name shall be called

0:55:180:55:20

# Wonderful

0:55:200:55:22

# Counsellor

0:55:220:55:24

# Almighty God the everlasting Father

0:55:240:55:28

# The Prince of Peace

0:55:280:55:31

-# Unto us a child is born

-For unto us a child is born

0:55:310:55:34

# Unto us... #

0:55:340:55:36

For Handel, linking Messiah with London's most fashionable charity

0:55:360:55:40

was a masterstroke.

0:55:400:55:42

The event single-handedly revived

0:55:420:55:44

the reputation of his much-criticised oratorio,

0:55:440:55:48

and in the process changed the nation's musical life.

0:55:480:55:51

# And his name shall be called

0:55:510:55:54

# Wonderful

0:55:540:55:56

# Counsellor... #

0:55:560:55:58

Today, Messiah has been sung more often and heard by more people

0:55:580:56:03

than any other single piece of music of the last 300 years.

0:56:030:56:07

And it's probably earned more money for charity

0:56:070:56:10

than any other musical work in history.

0:56:100:56:13

Not bad for an oratorio that started life as a leap in the dark.

0:56:130:56:18

Messiah isn't a masterpiece in a museum -

0:56:190:56:22

it's much more important than that.

0:56:220:56:24

It's a verb, an action, a doing.

0:56:240:56:26

It's a call to charity, a clarion song of selflessness

0:56:260:56:31

that's still as powerful today as ever.

0:56:310:56:34

But this remarkable event didn't only kick-start

0:56:400:56:43

the great annual tradition of Messiahs

0:56:430:56:46

that is going strong to this day.

0:56:460:56:48

It also played a crucial part

0:56:480:56:51

in awakening the social conscience of the nation.

0:56:510:56:55

Boosted by this concert, the Foundling Hospital prospered.

0:56:550:56:59

In the years to come, it would go on save the lives

0:56:590:57:02

of 25,000 abandoned babies.

0:57:020:57:05

And became a model for how art, music and philanthropy

0:57:070:57:11

together can improve the world.

0:57:110:57:13

# King of kings

0:58:140:58:16

# Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

0:58:160:58:18

# And Lord of lords

0:58:180:58:20

# Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

0:58:200:58:22

# And King of kings

0:58:220:58:24

# King of kings

0:58:290:58:30

# And Lord of lords

0:58:300:58:32

# King of kings

0:58:320:58:34

# And Lord of lords

0:58:340:58:37

# And He shall reign

0:58:370:58:39

# And he shall reign for ever and ever

0:58:390:58:43

# Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

0:58:430:58:47

# Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

0:58:470:58:51

# Hallelujah! #

0:58:540:59:06

Handel's Messiah is one of the most popular choral pieces in western music. It has been recorded hundreds of times and contains a tune that is as instantly recognisable as any in music. Yet few people know the extraordinary story of how this much-loved piece came to public attention - or how it helped save the lives of tens of thousands of children.

Historian Amanda Vickery and BBC Radio 3 presenter Tom Service present this one-hour drama documentary which recreates the first performance of Messiah at London's Foundling Hospital in 1750 and tells the heartrending story of how this special fundraising concert helped maintain the hospital and heralded a golden age of philanthropy.

Exploring historical documents and artefacts, Amanda examines the plight of women in Georgian London, particularly how the attitudes of the time led mothers to abandon their babies at the hospital. Tom looks at the momentous trials and tribulations faced by Handel in London and discovers how the composer became involved with the Foundling Hospital alongside another philanthropist of the day, the artist William Hogarth.