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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Messiah (Handel)

After several setbacks George Handel the Anglo-German composer was at his lowest ebb. He set to work to compose an oratorio with words taken from the Book of Isaiah and The Gospels in which he intended to depict Christ's life, death, resurrection and eternal glory. For 22 days and nights he worked solidly hardly eating, or sleeping, surviving totally on coffee. He completed his oratorio on September 14, 1742. The result was a masterpiece, The Messiah. "I saw the great God himself, on his throne" said Handel "and all his company of Angels".


"Messiah" was first performed at Fishamble Street, Dublin on April 13, 1742, as part of a charity series of concerts that Handel was invited to give by the Lord Lieutenant. The Anglo German composer led the concert from the harpsichord.  So great was the demand for the first performance that men were asked to attend without their swords and women without the hoops in their skirts so more people could be fitted in.

The Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin, where Messiah was first performed
The warm reception accorded to Messiah in Dublin was not repeated in London when Handel introduced the work at the Covent Garden Theatre on March 23, 1743. The press felt that the work's subject matter was too exalted to be performed in a theatre, particularly by secular singer-actresses such as Susanna Cibber and Kitty Clive.

However, the Messiah's first performance in London did prove to be a hit with King George II. In fact at the end of the Hallelujah chorus, he stood up and the rest of the audience followed his lead. This practice has continued until now.

Some of the pieces were repeated ideas from some of Handel's earlier works. For instance an early love song called "No I won't trust you, blind love, cruel love" became" For unto us a child is born. "

The final bars of the "Hallelujah" chorus, from Handel's manuscript

After the success of “The Messiah,” Handel was taken to visit the dying, insane satirist Jonathan Swift. When the Dean realized it was Handel he cried "Oh! a German and a Genius. A prodigy! Admit him."

"The Messiah" was repeatedly revised by Handel, reaching its most familiar version in the performance to benefit the Foundling Hospital in 1754.

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