Charles Jennens was born around , into a prosperous landowning family whose lands and properties in Warwickshire and Leicestershire he eventually inherited. As a devout Anglican and believer in scriptural authority, Jennens intended to challenge advocates of Deism , who rejected the doctrine of divine intervention in human affairs. This inscription, taken with the speed of composition, has encouraged belief in the apocryphal story that Handel wrote the music in a fervour of divine inspiration in which, as he wrote the "Hallelujah" chorus, "he saw all heaven before him". The effort of writing so much music in so short a time was not unusual for Handel and his contemporaries; Handel commenced his next oratorio, Samson, within a week of finishing Messiah, and completed his draft of this new work in a month. Thus, Se tu non-lasci amore from became the basis of "O Death, where is thy sting? These concerts were so popular that a second series was quickly arranged; Messiah figured in neither series.
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It was first performed in Dublin on 13 April and received its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music. He turned to English oratorio in the s, in response to changes in public taste; Messiah was his sixth work in this genre.
Although its structure resembles that of opera, it is not in dramatic form; there are no impersonations of characters and very little direct speech. Handel wrote Messiah for modest vocal and instrumental forces, with optional settings for many of the individual numbers.
In the years after his death, the work was adapted for performance on a much larger scale, with giant orchestras and choirs. In other efforts to update it, its orchestration was revised and amplified by among others Mozart. A near-complete version was issued on 78 rpm discs in ; since then the work has been recorded many times. Handel received critical musical training in Halle, Hamburg and Italy before settling in London in He became a naturalised British subject in Within a large and varied musical output, Handel was a vigorous champion of Italian opera, which he had introduced to London in with Rinaldo.
Handel overcame this challenge, but he spent large sums of his own money to do so. Future prospects for Italian operas in London declined during the s; Handel remained committed to the genre, but began to introduce English-language oratorios as occasional alternatives to his staged works. As a young man in Rome in —08 he had written two Italian oratorios at a time when opera performances in the city were temporarily forbidden under papal decree.
His first venture into English oratorio had been Esther which was written and performed for a private patron in about Its success encouraged Handel to write two more oratorios Deborah and Athalia , and all three oratorios were performed to large and appreciative audiences at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford in mid Undergraduates reportedly sold their furniture to raise the money for the five-shilling tickets. In Handel received the text for a new oratorio named Saul from its librettist Charles Jennens, a wealthy landowner with musical and literary interests.
Although Handel continued to write and present operas, the trend towards English-language productions became irresistible as the decade ended, and after three performances of his last Italian opera Deidamia in January and February , he abandoned the genre. According to the musicologist Donald Burrows, much of the text is so allusive as to be largely incomprehensible to those ignorant of the biblical accounts. For the benefit of his audiences, Jennens printed and issued a pamphlet explaining the reasons for his choices of scriptural selections.
Writing history Libretto Charles Jennens was born around , into a prosperous landowning family whose lands and properties in Warwickshire and Leicestershire he eventually inherited. His religious and political views—he opposed the Act of Settlement of which secured the accession to the British throne for the House of Hanover—prevented him from receiving his degree from Balliol College, Oxford, or from pursuing any form of public career.
By , after their collaboration on Saul, a warm friendship had developed between the two, and Handel was a frequent visitor to the Jennens family estate at Gopsall. Composition The music for Messiah was completed in 24 days of swift composition. The effort of writing so much music in so short a time was not unusual for Handel and his contemporaries; Handel commenced his next oratorio, Samson, within a week of finishing Messiah, and completed his draft of this new work in a month.
In accordance with his frequent practice when writing new works, Handel adapted existing compositions for use in Messiah, in this case drawing on two recently completed Italian duets and one written twenty years previously. Before the first performance Handel made numerous revisions to his manuscript score, in part to match the forces available for the Dublin premiere; it is probable that his work was not performed as originally conceived in his lifetime.
Between and he continued to revise and recompose individual movements, sometimes to suit the requirements of particular singers. These concerts were so popular that a second series was quickly arranged; Messiah figured in neither series. In early March Handel began discussions with the appropriate committees for a charity concert, to be given in April, at which he intended to present Messiah.
These forces amounted to 16 men and 16 boy choristers; several of the men were allocated solo parts. The women soloists were Christina Maria Avoglio, who had sung the main soprano roles in the two subscription series, and Susannah Cibber, an established stage actress and contralto who had sung in the second series.
The orchestra in Dublin comprised strings, two trumpets, and timpani; the number of players is unknown. Handel had his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performances; a harpsichord was probably also used.
Seven hundred people attended the premiere on 13 April. So that the largest possible audience could be admitted to the concert, gentlemen were requested to remove their swords, and ladies were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. A Dublin clergyman, Rev. Handel remained in Dublin for four months after the premiere. London, —59 The warm reception accorded to Messiah in Dublin was not repeated in London when Handel introduced the work at the Covent Garden theatre on 23 March As was his custom, Handel rearranged the music to suit his singers.
There is no convincing evidence that the king was present, or that he attended any subsequent performance of Messiah; the first reference to the practice of standing appears in a letter dated The performance at the hospital is the first for which full details of the orchestral and vocal forces survive. The orchestra included fifteen violins, five violas, three cellos, two double-basses, four bassoons, four oboes, two trumpets, two horns and drums. In the chorus of nineteen were six trebles from the Chapel Royal; the remainder, all men, were altos, tenors and basses.
Frasi, Galli and Beard led the five soloists, who were required to assist the chorus. For this performance the transposed Guadagni arias were restored to the soprano voice. By Handel was severely afflicted by the onset of blindness, and in he turned over the direction of the Messiah hospital performance to his pupil, J. He apparently resumed his duties in and may have continued thereafter. The final performance of the work at which Handel was present was at Covent Garden on 6 April , eight days before his death.
Later performance history 18th century During the s Messiah was performed increasingly at festivals and cathedrals throughout the country. Individual choruses and arias were occasionally extracted for use as anthems or motets in church services, or as concert pieces, a practice that grew in the 19th century and has continued ever since.
The orchestra employed was two hundred and fifty strong, including twelve horns, twelve trumpets, six trombones and three pairs of timpani some made especially large. In Hiller presented a performance of his revision with a choir of and an orchestra of 87 strings, 10 bassoons, 11 oboes, 8 flutes, 8 horns, 4 clarinets, 4 trombones, 7 trumpets, timpani, harpsichord and organ. In , Mozart was commissioned by Baron Gottfried van Swieten and the Gesellschaft der Associierten to re-orchestrate several works by Handel, including Messiah.
Writing for a small-scale performance, he eliminated the organ continuo, added parts for flutes, clarinets, trombones and horns, recomposed some passages and rearranged others. Elements of this version later became familiar to British audiences, incorporated into editions of the score by editors including Ebenezer Prout. Messiah was presented in New York in with a chorus of and in Boston in with more than In the s and s ever larger forces were assembled.
Most of us would be glad to hear the work seriously performed once before we die. Many admirers of Handel believed that the composer would have made such additions, had the appropriate instruments been available in his day. At the end of the century, Sir Frederick Bridge and T. With our large choral societies, additional accompaniments of some kind are a necessity for an effective performance; and the question is not so much whether, as how they are to be written.
In Germany, Messiah was not so often performed as in Britain; when it was given, medium-sized forces were the norm. In Britain, innovative broadcasting and recording contributed to reconsideration of Handelian performance.
For example, in , Beecham conducted a recording of Messiah with modestly sized forces and controversially brisk tempi, although the orchestration remained far from authentic. The Prout version sung with many voices remained popular with British choral societies, but at the same time increasingly frequent performances were given by small professional ensembles in suitably sized venues, using authentic scoring.
Recordings on LP and CD were preponderantly of the latter type, and the large scale Messiah came to seem old-fashioned. The cause of authentic performance was advanced in by the publication of a new edition of the score, edited by Watkins Shaw. Against the general trend towards authenticity, the work has been staged in opera houses, both in London and in Paris Although performances striving for authenticity are now usual, it is generally agreed that there can never be a definitive version of Messiah; the surviving manuscripts contain radically different settings of many numbers, and vocal and instrumental ornamentation of the written notes is a matter of personal judgment, even for the most historically informed performers.
The Handel scholar Winton Dean has written: [T]here is still plenty for scholars to fight over, and more than ever for conductors to decide for themselves. Indeed if they are not prepared to grapple with the problems presented by the score they ought not to conduct it. This applies not only to the choice of versions, but to every aspect of baroque practice, and of course there are often no final answers.
Music Organisation and numbering of movements The numbering of the movements shown here is in accordance with the Novello vocal score , edited by Watkins Shaw, which adapts the numbering earlier devised by Ebenezer Prout. The division into parts and scenes is based on the word-book prepared for the first London performance.
The scene headings are given as Burrows summarised the scene headings by Jennens. Sinfony instrumental 2. Comfort ye my people tenor 3. And the glory of the Lord chorus Scene 2: The coming judgment 5. Thus saith the Lord of hosts bass 6. But who may abide the day of His coming soprano, alto or bass 7. Behold, a virgin shall conceive alto 9. O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion alto and chorus For behold, darkness shall cover the earth bass The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light bass For unto us a child is born chorus Scene 4: The annunciation to the shepherds There were shepherds abiding in the fields soprano 14b.
And lo, the angel of the Lord soprano And the angel said unto them soprano And suddenly there was with the angel soprano Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion soprano Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened soprano or alto His yoke is easy chorus Part II Behold the Lamb of God chorus He was despised and rejected of men alto Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows chorus And with his stripes we are healed chorus All we like sheep have gone astray chorus
Messiah, HWV 56 (Handel, George Frideric)
The birth and death of Jesus are told in the words of the prophet Isaiah the most prominent source for the libretto. The only true scene of the oratorio is the annunciation to the shepherds which is taken from the Gospel of Luke. Music[ edit ] By the time Handel composed Messiah in London he was already a successful and experienced composer of Italian operas, and had created sacred works based on English texts, such as the Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate , and numerous oratorios on English libretti. For Messiah, Handel used the same musical technique as for those works, namely a structure based on chorus and solo singing.