13 April 2008

Händel's "Messiah" is 266 Years old today

While most of the day was rather pleasant here, the evening has brought us some more of the steady rain. And when it rains heavily, I usually don't go for my evening constitutional.
I then prefer to stay at home and spend some time in front of the fireplace, listening to a nice piece of classical music.

Today there is no question which piece of music I listen to. As this is April 13th, it has to be the famous oratorio "The Messiah" by Georg Friedrich Händel (left), which was first performed on this day 266 years ago. And despite the fact that Händel lived and worked in London then, "The Messiah" saw its premiere in Neal's Music Hall on Dublin's Fishamble Street, close to the famous Temple Bar district.

In the summer of 1741 G. F. Händel - at the peak of his musical prowess, but depressed and in debt - began setting Charles Jennens' Biblical libretto to music at his usual breakneck speed. In just 24 days "The Messiah" was complete.
Like many of Händel's compositions, it borrows liberally from earlier works, both his own and those of others.

It was premiered during the following season, in the spring of 1742, as part of a series of charity concerts Händel gave in Neal's Music Hall on Fishamble Street in Dublin. Right up to the day of the premiere, "The Messiah" was troubled by production difficulties and last-minute rearrangements of the score.
The Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the famous writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, placed some pressure on the premiere and had it cancelled entirely for a period. He demanded that it be retitled "A Sacred Oratorio" and that revenue from the concert be promised to local hospitals for the mentally ill.

The premiere happened eventually on April 13th at the Music Hall in Dublin, and Händel led the performance from the harpsichord with Matthew Dubourg conducting the orchestra. Dubourg was an Irish violinist, conductor and composer who had worked with Händel as early as 1719 in London.

Tonight I have been listening to an excellent recording of the oratorio, performed by the London Festival Choir and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under the baton of Sir Neville Mariner. Quite a nice way to close a Sunday and to get inspiration for another new week.

The Emerald Islander

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