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Handel and Haydn Society Records

 Collection — Container: MS 5084
Call Number: MS 5084

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the growth and influence of the Handel and Haydn Society from its inception in Boston, Massachusetts to the international stage. From its beginning, the Society has been governed by its Board of Governance, which oversees all aspects of concert production, financial matters, and chorus administration. The minutes of the first meeting, held on March 24, 1815, record the creation of the Society by Boston merchants whose mission it was to cultivate public appreciation of sacred music and to introduce the works of George Frideric Handel, Joseph Haydn, and other eminent composers. Among the most common subjects that run throughout the meeting minutes are concert planning, music selection, and the Society’s finances. Also included are chorus membership and status, scheduling of rehearsal space and concert locations, and organizing special events such as anniversary celebrations and memorial concerts. In addition, records made by the Society and broadcasted performances are documented. Minutes date from 1815-1983, but are not inclusive. Also included are presidents’ addresses, which provide comprehensive yearly overviews of the rehearsal and concert schedules and performances, rosters of soloists, and the Society’s financial condition. Addresses date from 1818-1978 with gaps. Moreover the collection contains bills and disbursements that were retained from 1815-1894 and record all of the expenses that were incurred by the Society beginning with the first performance of Messiah to the cost of building lease agreements.

Administrative records reflect the work done by Handel and Haydn staff, such as staging plans, coordinating rehearsal schedules, and special events planning. Also covered are outreach efforts as well as special events, among them the Society’s 150th Anniversary and the Ago conference held in 1976. The collection also chronicles the Society’s performance history from 1815-1995, including such concerts as George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Gioachino Rossini’s Moses in Egypt.

Records include meeting minutes, chorus roll and attendance books, correspondence, newspaper clippings, programs, and photographs.


  • 1808-2011
  • Majority of material found in 1815-1995


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.

Biographical / Historical

Chronology (selected):

March 24, 1815 - The Handel and Haydn Society is founded "to promote the love of good music and a better performance of it."

December 25, 1815 - First public performance at King’s Chapel.

February 9, 1816 - Incorporated by a Special Act of the General Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

December 25, 1818 - First complete performance of Handel’s Messiah in America.

February 16, 1819 - First complete performance of Haydn’s The Creation in America.

1823 - Commissions Beethoven to compose a work for the Society but he dies before taking on the commission.

August 2, 1826 - Chorus performs at the memorial services for John Adams and Thomas Jefferson held in Faneuil Hall. Daniel Webster, orator.

April 13, 1829 - American premiere of Mozart’s Missa longa in C (K. 262).

January 26, 1845 - First American performance of Handel’s Samson.

April 15, 1848 - Performance at memorial services for John Quincy Adams at Faneuil Hall. Edward Everett, eulogist.

March 2, 1850 - First American performance of Handel’s Jephtha.

November 30, 1852 - Performance at the memorial services for Daniel Webster.

November 15, 1855 - First American performance of Handel’s Solomon.

April 27, 1861 - Benefit concert to raise money to support the Union Army.

January 1, 1863 - Chorus performs for the Emancipation Proclamation celebration. Julia Ward Howe, author of Battle Hymn of the Republic, is a member of the chorus. Ralph Waldo Emerson, orator.

June 16, 1870 - New York City invites the society to participate in the Beethoven Centennial; 500 chorus members take part.

May 17, 1877 - First American performance of Parts I & II of J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

May 5, 1878 - First American performance of Verdi’s Requiem in memory of Manzoni.

April 11, 1879 - First complete American performance of J. S. Bach’s Matthew’s Passion.

February 27, 1887 - First American performance of selection from J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor.

1904 - The chorus performs at the opening exercises of the International Peace Conference.

October 29, 1955 - Society makes first recording - Messiah.

1961 - Chorus appears on television for the first time in the Accent on Music series.

December, 1963 - Presents the first complete television performance of Messiah for National Educational Television.

October 20, 1964 - Society is commended for its great contributions to American music and culture by President Johnson.

March 28, 1965 - World premiere of Randall Thompson’s Passion According to St. Luke, commissioned by the Society in celebration of its 150th anniversary.

October, 1965 - Hosts the first international choral festival with over 1,500 singers from 15 different choirs representing eleven nations.

1967 - Thomas Dunn is appointed Music Director and inaugurates a new era in its history, shifting the focus from solely choral music to a balanced program of early and contemporary choral and instrumental music involving both performing and visual arts.

October 28, 1971 - First American performance of Jean Francais’ Le Diable boiteux.

December 8, 1972 - Chorus is reduced to 30 singers for Messiah for the first time.

April, 1981 - The chorus is permanently reduced to a chamber size (approximately 32 members).

1985 - The Education Program is established to serve young people with limited access to musical performances.

June 30, 1986 - Christopher Hogwood is appointed Artistic Director, initiating "historically informed performances" with instruments appropriate to the time period of the piece.

September, 2000 - New recording of Handel’s Messiah (arr. Mozart) is released. First recording of the Society’s signature work since becoming a period instrument orchestra.

March, 2001 - Christopher Hogwood conducts the modern-day premiere of C.P.E. Bach’s Hymn of Thanks and Friendship.

February 24, 2003 - The recording of Lamentations and Praises with Chanticleer earns two Grammy Awards.

September, 2003 - Fully-staged, world premiere production of Monteverdi’s Vespers, conducted by Grant Llewellyn and directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, is acclaimed by national and international press.

March 2004 - The recording PEACE debuts at #5 on Billboard Magazine’s Classical Chart.

February, 2006 - Grant Llewellyn conducts modern day premiere (first performance in 235 years) of ballet movements from Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba.

September 9, 2006 - The orchestra, under Harry Christopher’s direction, performs at the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria. Concert marks the Society’s debut on the European continent.

July 23, 2007 - Society in Europe makes its London and BBC Proms debuts with Sir Roger Norrington conducting Haydn’s The Seasons at Royal Albert Hall. The performance is broadcast live throughout the U.K. on radio and television.

October 2009 - Harry Christophers begins his tenure as Artistic Director of the Handel and Haydn Society.

September 2010 - Society releases its first commercial compact disc with Harry Christophers of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor recorded live at Symphony Hall on January 29 & 31, 2010, the first part of a Mozart trilogy recording project.

February 2011 - Handel and Haydn Society’s Karen S. and George D. Levy Educational Outreach Program celebrates its 25th Anniversary.

February 18 & 20, 2011 - In celebration of its approaching Bicentennial in 2015, the Society reflects upon its rich history of American premieres of masterworks and performs Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt led by Harry Christophers.

Note written by Michael Jendrysk


25.00 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



Arranged into five series:

1. Governance

2. Administrative and Financial Records

3. Publicity

4. Chorus Records

5. Memorabilia and Photographs

Method of Acquisition

Donated by the Handel and Haydn Society to the Boston Public Library in 1978. Additional material from the Society was added in September 2010.

Processing Information

Finding aid written by Katy Zore, July 2011.

Processing Information

This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.

Statement on harmful description

Archival description reflects the biases of time periods and cultures in which it was created and may include direct quotations or descriptions that use inappropriate or harmful language. Creator provided descriptions may be maintained in order to preserve the context in which the collection was created and/or used. Legacy description and potentially offensive content may be made available online until a collection can be reprocessed because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.

Handel and Haydn Society Records
Katy Zore, October 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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About this library

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