Messiah at the Foundling Hospital

BBC Two - 9.30pm

Who's in it?

Amanda Vickery and Tom Service, along with plenty of people in period garb, give us a fresh new take on what may be the most famous piece of classical music ever written.

In a nutshell

Everybody – EVERYBODY – knows Handel's Messiah. Or rather, they know the "Hallelujah" bit, which is so famous it's actually hard to take seriously, a bit like the "Dah dah dah DAH" opening of Beethoven's Fifth. But what most people don't know is the strange and beautiful story behind Handel's masterpiece, and how it's literally saved countless lives.

As this programme will reveal, the first ever performance of the Messiah was at London's Foundling Hospital in 1750, and inaugurated a new era of charity and fundraising in Britain. In fact, it was the original "charity gig" – and a much needed one for a hospital where mothers were forced by the conventions of society to abandon their illegitimate offspring. As well as exploring the history of the period, the documentary even recreates the premiere of the Messiah, inspired by records of what happened on that momentous day.

What's the verdict?

A celebration of music, a historical journey and a period drama all in one, this is one of the must-see programmes of the Easter weekend. Hallelujah indeed.

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07-07-2011