Composed in just three weeks, Handel's Messiah has enthralled and transported people of all faiths for more than 250 years. This work has proven to be one of the transcendent glories not just of Western music, but Western civilization itself.
We wish to advise that the Mezzo Soprano performing this concert will be Bronwyn Douglass, not Emma Moore as previously advertised.
Part the First
Comfort ye (Accompagnato: Tenor)
Ev’ry valley (Song: Tenor)
And the glory of the Lord (Chorus)
Thus saith the Lord (Accompagnato: Bass-baritone)
But who may abide (Song: Countertenor)
And He shall purify (Chorus)
Behold, a virgin shall conceive (Recit.: Countertenor)
O thou that tellest (Song: Countertenor and Chorus)
For behold, darkness (Accompagnato: Bass-baritone)
The people that walked in darkness (Song: Bass-baritone)
For unto us a child is born (Chorus)
There were shepherds abiding in the field (Recit.: Soprano)
And lo, the angel of the Lord (Accompagnato: Soprano)
And the angel said unto them (Recit.: Soprano)
And suddenly there was with the angel (Accompagnato: Soprano)
Glory to God (Chorus)
Rejoice greatly (Song: Soprano)
Then shall the eyes of the blind (Recit.: Countertenor)
He shall feed his flock (Duet: Soprano and Countertenor)
His yoke is easy (Chorus)
Interval 20 minutes
Part the Second
Behold the Lamb of God (Chorus)
He was despised (Song: Countertenor)
Surely He hath borne our griefs (Chorus)
And with His stripes (Chorus)
All we, like sheep (Chorus)
All they that see Him (Accompagnato: Tenor)
He trusted in God (Chorus)
Thy rebuke hath broken His heart (Accompagnato: Tenor)
Behold and see (Song: Tenor)
He was cut off (Accompagnato: Tenor)
But Thou didst not leave (Song: Tenor)
Lift up your heads (Chorus)
Unto which of the angels (Recit.: Tenor)
Let all the angels of God (Chorus)
Thou art gone up on high (Song: Countertenor)
The Lord gave the word (Chorus)
How beautiful are the feet (Duet: Soprano and Countertenor, and Chorus)
Their sound is gone out (Song: Tenor)
Why do the nations (Song: Bass-baritone)
Let us break their bonds (Chorus)
He that dwelleth in heaven (Recit.: Tenor)
Thou shalt break them (Song: Tenor)
There will be a short pause between Parts II and III, during which patrons are asked to remain in the auditorium.
Part the Third
I know that my Redeemer liveth (Song: Soprano)
Since by man came death (Chorus)
Behold, I tell you a mystery (Accompagnato: Bass-baritone)
The trumpet shall sound (Song: Bass-baritone)
Then shall be brought to pass (Recit.: Countertenor)
O Death, where is thy sting? (Duet: Countertenor and Tenor)
But thanks be to God (Chorus)
If God be for us (Song: Soprano)
Worthy is the Lamb (Chorus)
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
A Sacred Oratorio
Handel composed Messiah in just over three weeks during the summer of 1741. It appeared at a crucial point in his career. He had composed his first oratorios (nonstaged dramatic vocal works with a sacred or secular text) during his time in Italy over 30 years earlier; however the main focus of his career following his arrival in London in 1710 had been Italian opera.
In February 1741, he produced his last opera, Deidamia. Having no sympathy with the direction opera was taking in London, he accepted an invitation from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to produce a concert season in Dublin from late 1741 until Easter 1742, for which Messiah was to be the highlight. It was premiered on Tuesday 13 April at the New Musick-Hall, Fishamble Street. A capacity audience of 700 attended, the expectation of an audience larger than the concert hall could hold leading to the quaint newspaper request that ladies come without hooped dresses and gentlemen without swords. The concert was a charity performance ‘For the Relief of the Prisoners in the several Gaols, and for the support of Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary’ and was a great success.
However, the initial London performances in 1743 were greeted with less enthusiasm, and it was only when Handel began to perform the work in association with the Foundling Hospital at Lincoln’s Inn (of which he was a governor) from 1750 onwards, that it became a favourite in London and began to assume its modern iconic status.
Most of Handel’s oratorios employ librettos based on Old Testament stories and are dramatic in form and content. Messiah clearly does not fit this pattern, being Christian in subject matter and reflective, with events narrated obliquely rather than directly. The libretto was compiled from biblical and liturgical sources by Charles Jennens, and outlines the sequence of the church year, from Advent through to Pentecost, then on to Eternity. The narrative expresses an essentially Enlightenment view of the Christian story – with an emphasis on decorum, rationality and restraint – that also gives it an air of universality.
Musically, this universality can be seen in the work’s combination of diverse stylistic elements. It fuses in a unique way the traditions of Italian opera and chamber music, the German Passion, and the English ceremonial anthem. These complementary qualities can also be seen to progress through the work. Part I shows the strongest Italianate influence in its arias, accompanied recitatives, and choruses. The Passiontide section of Part II has the strongest German influence; while from the Resurrection onwards there is a return to Italianate traditions with a strong element of English ceremonial music, notably the Hallelujah Chorus and the concluding Worthy is the Lamb, with their celebratory timpani, trumpets, and fanfare figures.
Handel’s original performance of Messiah in Dublin employed quite modest forces. The soloists and orchestra consisted of a mixture of artists brought from London and the best available local talent. The choir consisted of the combined forces of the two Cathedrals of St Patrick and Christ Church. Only after his death did a tradition arise of increasing the forces on a massive scale, culminating in a performance at the Crystal Palace, London, in 1857 when a ‘wonderful assembly of 2000 vocal and 500 instrumental performers’ was involved. From the mid-20th century, however, a revisionary attitude has led to a general desire to return to the masterpiece as Handel conceived, composed, adapted, knew, and performed it.
Abridged from an annotation by Robert Forgacs © 2010