Friday, April 13, 2018

April 13, 1742: Handel's 'Messiah' first performed

Last updated August 26, 2018.

Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56

George Friedrich Händel (composer)

Composed: 8/22/1741 – 9/12/1741

First Performed: 4/13/1742

Sales: - NA -

Peak: - NA -

Quotable: --

Genre: classical > choral music > oratorio


Act I: 1) Sinfonia in E minor 2) “Comfort ye my people", Recitative for tenor 3) "Ev'ry valley shall be exalted", Air for tenor 4) "And the glory of the Lord", Chorus 5) "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts", Recitative for bass 6) "But who may abide the day of His coming", Air for bass 7) "And He shall purify the sons of Levi", Chorus 8) "Behold, a virgin shall conceive", Recitative for alto 9) "O thou that tellest good tiding to Zion", Air for alto 10) "For behold, darkness shall cover the earth", Recitative for bass 11) "The people that walked in darkness", Air for bass 12) "For unto us a Child is born", Chorus 13) Pifa in C major 14) "There were shepherds abiding in the field", Recitative for soprano 15) "And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them", Recitative for soprano 16) "But lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them", Arioso for soprano 17) "And the angel said unto them", Recitative for soprano 18) "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude", Recitative for soprano 19) "Glory to God in the highest", Chorus 20) "Rejoice greatly", Air for soprano 21) "Then shall the eyes of the blind be open'd", Recitative for soprano 22) "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd", Air for soprano 23) "His yoke is easy, His burden is light", Chorus

Act II: 1) "Behold the Lamb of God", Chorus 2) "He was dispised and rejected", Air for alto 3) "Surely, He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows", Chorus 4) "And with His stripes we are healed", Chorus 5) "All we like sheep", Chorus 6) "All they that see Him, laugh Him to scorn", Recitative for tenor 7) "He trusted in God that He would deliver Him", Chorus 8) "Thy rebuke hat broken His heart", Recitative for tenor 9) "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow", Arioso for tenor 10) "He was cut off out of the land of the living", Recitative for tenor 11) "But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell", Air for tenor 12) "Lift up your heads, O ye gates", Chorus 13) "Unto which of the angels said He at any time", Recitative for tenor 14) "Let all the angels of God worship Him", Chorus 15) "Thou art gone up on high", Air for bass/alto 16) "Great was the company of the preachers", Chorus 17) "How beautiful are the feet of them", Air for soprano 18) "Their sound is gone out into all the lands", Arioso for tenor 19) "Their sound is gone out into all the lands", Chorus 20) "Why do the nations so furiously rage together", Air for bass 21) "The Kings of the earth rise up", Air for bass 22) "Let us break their bonds asunder", Chorus 23) "He that dwelleth in heaven", Recitative for tenor 24) "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron", Air for tenor 25) "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron", Recitative for tenor 26) "Hallelujah", Chorus

Act II: 1) "I know that my Redeemer liveth", Air for soprano 2) "Since by man came death", Chorus 3) "Behold, I tell you a mystery", Recitative for bass 4) "The trumpet shall sound", Air for bass 5) "Then shall be brought to pass the saying", Recitative for alto 6) "O death, where is thy sting?", Duet for alto & tenor 7) "But thanks to be to God", Chorus 8) "Worthy is the Lamb was slain", Chorus 9) "Amen", Chorus 10) "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts", Supplemental Recitative for bass

Average Length: 140:00


“With the arguable exception of the Water Music, the oratorio Messiah is the one work of Handel’s which is universally known. Yet it was composed at a time when Handel’s fortunes were at a low ebb. His final attempt to return to opera with Imeneo (1740) and Deidamia (1741) had proved a failure, and rumor even had it that, having despaired of the London public, he was preparing to leave England. Fortuitously, the clergyman and writer Charles Jennens, Handel’s collaborator in Saul, lured Handel back to the idea of English oratorio; at much the same time, the composer received an offer from William Cavendish, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, to take part in the following season of oratorio performances in Dublin. The libretto offered to Handel by Jennens was based around the birth and Passion of Christ. It was called Messiah. Handel set to work on the libretto on August 22, 1741, completing the score just over three weeks later on September 12.” BR

“The resulting sacred, non-dramatic oratorio was a first for Handel, and, although it heralded the composer’s final great phase of oratorio composition, he never wrote one like it again. Messiah is therefore completely atypical within the context of Handel’s oratorios, the majority of which relate to Old Testament or Apocryphal stories in dramatized form. As a statement of Christian faith it moves the worldly Handel closer to Bach than any other work of his, although not sufficiently to prevent contemporary accusations of operatic influences. It is also worth recalling that during Handel’s day Messiah was more frequently performed in theaters than in churches.” BR

“Jennens divided his text into three parts, the first of which deals with the Prophecy of the Messiah and its fulfillment. The second takes us from the Passion to the triumph of the Resurrection, while the final part deals with the role of the Messiah in life after death. Handel’s setting consists of the usual juxtaposition of recitative, arias, and choruses. Jennens’ libretto draws across a wide spectrum of both Old and New Testament sources, but uniquely among Handel’s oratorios there are no named characters. The drama is thus articulated purely through the textual message, most powerfully through the overwhelming choruses that have ensured the enduring popularity of the oratorio. The first performance took place at the New Music Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. It was received with huge acclaim, the Dublin Journal proclaiming that ‘Messiah was allowed by the greatest Judges to be the finest Composition of Musick that ever was heard.’ The following year the triumph was repeated at Covent Garden, when Handel added two more solos. Further revisions took place in 1745 at the famous Foundling Hospital performances, leaving all subsequent conductors with editorial problems as to Handel’s ‘final’ intentions. By the time of the composer’s death in 1758 Messiah had already attained an iconic status it has never relinquished.” BR

“Alongside its immensely popular choruses – of which the Hallelujah is king – Messiah’s primary allure is its effective arias and recitatives for solo voices. The opening Every Valley, sung by tenor, sets the tone for tunefulness and expressive charm, and is well-matched by the soprano’s Rejoice Greatly, the alto’s He was Despised and the bass’ The Trumpet Shall Sound.” BR

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