The text for Messiah was selected and compiled from the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible by Charles Jennens, an aristocrat and musician/poet of modest talent and exceptional ego. With Messiah, Jennens seems to have outdone himself in compiling a libretto with profound thematic coherence and an acute sensitivity to the inherent musical structure. With the finished libretto in his possession, Handel began setting it to music on August 22, 1741, and completed it 24 days later. He was certainly working at white-hot speed, but this didn’t necessarily indicate he was in the throes of devotional fervour, as legend has often stated. Handel composed many of his works in haste, and immediately after completing Messiah he wrote his next oratorio, Samson, in a similarly brief timespan.
The tradition of performing Messiah at Christmas began later in the 18th century. Although the work was occasionally performed during Advent in Dublin, the oratorio was usually regarded in England as an entertainment for the penitential season of Lent, when performances of opera were banned. Messiah’s extended musical focus on Christ’s redeeming sacrifice also makes it particularly suitable for Passion Week and Holy Week, the periods when it was usually performed during Handel’s lifetime.
Following the pattern of Italian baroque opera, Messiah is divided into three parts. In the first, the way is paved for the Redeemer’s coming, drawing heavily from messianic texts in the Book of Isaiah. After His Advent is announced, there follow descriptions of the events of the nativity. Part One ends with the chorus singing “His yoke is easy, His burthen is light.”
Part Two describes the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It concludes with the familiar Hallelujah Chorus. It was at this point in the oratorio, during one of the early London performances, that King George II spontaneously rose to his feet in a spirit of exaltation. Audiences have traditionally repeated this practice ever since.
In Part Three, the spiritual messages represented by Christ’s teachings are set forth for the instruction and benefit of all. It opens with the moving soprano aria I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, and concludes with a final chorus of Amen.
While we take every opportunity to ensure the details for Messiah are accurate, we always advise that you contact the event organiser before setting out for the event to avoid disapointment.
Looking to reach new customers? We offer a variety of advertising options with prices starting from just £30 per month!