The Messiah G.F.Handel

December 16th 2018 – Glasgow City Halls – 4:00pm

The Messiah 

George Frideric Handel 

Embracing the iconic Hallelujah Chorus, G. F. Handel’s Messiah is one of the most famous, most performed pieces of classical music – how well do you know Messiah?

G F Handel  1685 – 1759
Handel was born in Germany. In 1710 he moved to London where he composed Messiah.  He is buried at Westminster Abbey.  Once, somewhat poignantly, after being congratulated on providing audiences with such fine entertainment as Messiah, he replied, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them, for I wished to make them better.”

The Premiere
Messiah was premiered on April 13, 1742 in Dublin. It drew such a crowd that ladies were requested not to wear hoops, nor men swords, thereby ensuring a larger audience.

The famous theologian John Wesley was at the premiere. In his Journal he wrote, “there were some parts that were affecting, but I doubt it has staying power”.                          

Following the premiere, Handel reworked the piece to better meet the abilities of singers and musicians.

Messiah wasn’t originally intended for Christmas.
Despite being about the whole of Jesus’ life it is now performed, mainly at Christmas.
Messiah was always intended for Lent. It was the Victorians who moved it to Christmas, to revive interest in what was then, a neglected holiday.

There is no definitive version
Handel wrote Messiah for a fairly small ensemble. The orchestra and choir numbered only 20 musicians and 15 singers. The original manuscript is lost.

Mozart re-orchestrated Messiah in 1789 and humbly wrote that, any alterations he made should not be seen as an effort at improvement. He also translated the work into German.  

Handel wrote the entire three-hour work in 24 days.
Handel wrote the original version of Messiah in three to four weeks. Most historic accounts estimate the composer spent only 24 days writing the oratorio.

However, he did use parts of earlier compositions. The choruses, “And He Shall Purify,” “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” and “His Yoke Is Easy” were all lifted from little Italian love arias Handel had composed 20 years earlier. 

Was Handel a religious man?
We haven’t the faintest idea.
Very little is known about his personal and private life. However, we do know that the compositional process moved him deeply and he claimed he saw angels and wept whilst composing the Hallelujah Chorus

The Libretto
Messiah tells the story of Jesus    from birth to Resurrection yet almost all of the libretto is taken from the Old Testament e.g., the famous aria, “He was despised, and rejected of men,” comes from Isaiah – Chapter 53, verse three    fully 700 years before Jesus was born.

Hallelujah Chorus….. stand or sit ?…..fact or fiction ?
History maintains that King George II was so moved by The Hallelujah Chorus, during the London premiere that he rose to his feet thereby obliging the audience to stand.

There is no substance to this story. In fact there is no evidence that King George II was even in attendance. The first reference to the, “stand” was a letter written 37 years after the performance.

Nevertheless, there has been much speculation as to why, if the King was there, did he stand?  

he was so moved by the music that he stood up to show his reverence ?
he had a bad case of pins and needles ?
he suffered from gout ?
he just wanted to stretch his legs ?

The questionable sit /stand has been described thus, “a silent showdown between the secularists who resolutely refuse to stand – and the traditionalists who rebuke them with looks of poison.’’

A lot of People thought it was blasphemous
Handel hoped that advertising the piece as “A Sacred Oratorio” instead of “Messiah” would help defuse some of the blasphemous controversy. His decision to premiere in Dublin, instead of London was in part to pry the work away from Anglican bishops.

But even in Dublin, Jonathan Swift, of Gulliver’s Travels fame, threatened to publicly forbid singers from St. Patrick’s Cathedral from participating.

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