Handel and the Crystal Palace
23 November 2007 - 02 March 2008
This exhibition explored the development of the Handel Festivals at the Crystal Palace in the nineteenth century and the major role they played in the cultural life of nineteenth century Britain.
Handel was the first composer in Britain to be celebrated with major commemorative concerts, first in 1784 (believed to be the centenary of his birth) and again in 1834. In the 1850s preparations were made for a celebration to mark one hundred years since Handel’s death in 1759. The opening of the Crystal Palace as a major cultural venue in the same decade provided an opportunity for Victorian Britain to celebrate their adopted composer on a grander scale than had been possible in the past, and also marked the start of a Handel Festival tradition which was to last well into the twentieth century.
The Crystal Palace was originally built for the ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations’. Six million people visited the exhibition – equivalent to about a third of the population of Britain at the time – and its image and reputation were well-known from contemporary publications. The building in Hyde Park was later moved and re-erected in a greatly enlarged form at Sydenham in south London, in an area that was renamed Crystal Palace; it was eventually destroyed by fire in 1936.
Image: Rimbault's cover title for Israel in Egypt sheet music, 1859 © The Gerald Coke Handel Collection in the care of the Foundling Museum
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