Musicians and Charity

by Jerry Rich, Director of Music

Long before modern benefit concerts like Live Aid (1985) and Hand in Hand (2017), musicians were involved in raising money for charitable causes. Here are some examples.

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL gave concerts to fund London’s Foundling Hospital, eventually raising some $600,000 in today’s money with performances of his Messiah.

CPE BACH organized a concert for Hamburg’s medical poorhouse. It featured the Credo from his father Johann Sebastian Bach’s B minor Mass and GF Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

JOSEF HAYDN organized performances of his Creation, The Seasons, The Surprise Symphony, and The Seven Last Words to benefit a Viennese society that helped musicians’ widows and children.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN performed in aid of the town of Baden after a fire almost completely destroyed it. His Seventh Symphony was premiered at a benefit for wounded Austro-Bavarian soldiers.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN wrote his Ruy Blas Overture for a theatre pension fund event. The British premiere of his Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture provided assistance for Silesian flood victims.

FRANZ LISZT played at a London charity dinner at age 12 to raise money for the widows and orphans of musicians. He later wrote his virtuoso showpiece Funérailles to help Hungarian refugees.

PIOTR TCHAIKOVSKY wrote Marche Slav to aid the Red Cross; evoking Serbian oppression with folk songs, the march ends with their Russian allies rescuing them to the tune of God Save the Czar.

GIUSEPPE VERDI created a rest home in Milan for retired opera singers fallen on hard times; it was supported by royalties from compositions like his 1874 Requiem. He also built a hospital near his birthplace.

EDWARD ELGAR (composer of Pomp and Circumstance) wrote Carillon to help WWI charities in Belgium. The next year his Polonia was composed to benefit Polish refugees.

MYRA HESS organized 1,700 lunchtime concerts in London’s National Gallery throughout World War II; these free performances included her noted Bach arrangements such as Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.