Friday 23 October 2009

How did he do it.

A recent copy of Country Life (which hit our letter box rather late owing to the Postal strike), included an article on demolished London buildings which had been photographed for the magazine. This included a fascinating photo of the chapel of the Foundling Hospital taken from the west end gallery and looking down towards the altar. (The above illustration is the reverse view). The area round the altar (sides and back) is entirely taken up with box pews. Which leads on to the fascinating conclusion, where on earth did Handel put his orchestra and singers when he performed Messiah in the Hospital chapel?

As anyone knows who has been to one of the London Handel Festival performances at St. George's Church, Hannover Square, fitting a chorus, orchestra and soloists for a Handel oratorio into a church is no easy business. By the look of the Foundling Hospital, there is even less space round the altar. So, did Handel dispose of his musicians in an around the box pews? Or did he put them in the gallery with the organ? This latter fitted in with Georgian church music tradition where the west gallery was the place where the choristers and instrumentalists played. But it would have meant that Handel and his musicians were sitting behind the audience, and a gallery is hardly the best space in which to fit the cast of Messiah. But given that the organ was in the gallery, this seems the most likely place.

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