Early Music

H+H at 200

Thursday, June 26, 2014
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The Handel and Haydn Society at 200

Monday, March 23, 2015
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Handel and Haydn Society ChorusIt may be hard to imagine a time when music by Franz Josef Haydn was considered contemporary, but we have a direct link to that time through Boston's Handel and Haydn Society. The institution, celebrating its official birthday on March 24, is now 200 years old and retains a name meant to evoke the best of the past (Handel) and the present (Haydn).

And while that name has remained constant, the organization itself has - to use current lingo from the tech industry - iterated continuously over the last two centuries. The last shots of the War of 1812 were still fresh in the ears of Americans when the Society organized itself as a collection of amateur musicians "for the purpose of improving the style of performing sacred music, and introducing into more general use the works of Handel and Haydn and other eminent composers."

The musical sound of that era might best be represented by the dominant form of keyboard instrument of the time, the fortepiano. H+H keyboard artist Ian Watson demonstrated the instrument in WCRB's Fraser Performance Studio through music by Alexander Reinagle, who died only six years prior to the founding of H+H:

Through the sometimes chaotic years and decades that followed, H+H

  • gave the first performances in this country of both Haydn's The Creation and Handel's Messiah,

  • engaged Beethoven to write a new piece (though he died before fulfilling the commission),

  • sang at memorial services for Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and later for a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation (with Ralph Waldo Emerson, orator),

  • and gave the first American performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion.

In 1967, Thomas Dunn became the Society's Artistic Director and committed the organization to historically informed performance, a philosophy it has embraced ever since, through subsequent Artistic Directors Christopher Hogwood, Grant Llewellyn, and, currently, Harry Christophers.

For more about the history of H+H and its bicentennial celebrations, visit the Handel and Haydn Society, and hear Alan McLellan's H+H Bicentennial Minutes below:

Bach's Christmas Oratorio

By Brian McCreath   |   Thursday, December 23, 2010
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Dec. 24

While Handel's Messiah rightly holds its place as this country's classical musical soundtrack for the holiday season (quibble if you will about its Easter message;  there's nothing wrong with talking about Easter at Christmas - just ask Bach!), it's J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio that rings through concert halls throughout Europe at this time of the year.

The six cantatas that make up the Christmas Oratorio, meant to be performed on six separate days throughout the liturgical Christmas season, tell the Christmas story as only Bach could.  With a combination of individual and communal perspective on both the joyful and meditative aspects of the season, it's a piece that always offers performers the chance to find new perspectives, angles, and ways of expressing eternal thoughts and feelings.

If you'd like to hear all six part of the Christmas Oratorio, in a terrific performance led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, feel free to listen to them below.

Part 1 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 2 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 3 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 4 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 5 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 6 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

An Explosion of Joy for Christmas

Saturday, December 24, 2011
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The BEMF Orchestra Through the Years

Saturday, June 8, 2013
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One Chorale, Three Masterpieces

Friday, June 10, 2011
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About the Author
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath


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