Music festivals in the 1700s raised considerable funds for charity. For example, the receipts from the first performance of Handel’s Messiah in Dublin in 1742 were for the relief of prisoners in several jails, the Mercer’s Hospital and the local infirmary. From 1750 annual concerts raised funds for the London Foundling Hospital. On his death, Handel even bequeathed his organ to the hospital.
Similar festivals and fetes were commenced throughout the provinces in the 1700s, many donating all profits to voluntary hospitals. A charitable music festival was initially held in Birmingham in 1768 in order to raise funds for the construction of the town’s first general hospital. Another festival was held in 1778 in order to ensure its completion. In 1784 these became the Triennial Festivals, raising approximately £2000 for Birmingham’s largest medical charity every three years. This was equivalent to one year’s subscriptions at an average provincial hospital. In 1846 the festival raised £11,000. It also featured a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, the first conducted by the composer.
Much of the music at all Victorian festivals was performed by amateurs. Despite many memorable guest performances, programmes demonstrate the extraordinary popularity of Handel. Many festivals throughout this period closed with at least part of the Messiah. The First World War witnessed the end of the Triennial Festivals and many other music festivals.