MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

What Is It About Messiah?

Messiah-score

My recent essay on the unusual (if most popular) of Handel’s oratorios:

Handel’s masterpiece has long been at the heart of the repertory, but it marked an unusual departure for the composer

If you could do the time warp and choose a few of the legendary premieres in music history to be teleported back to, what would make your list? Likely contenders might be Beethoven’s Ninth, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, perhaps Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, and — surely Messiah?

This list forms the basis for Thomas Forrest Kelly’s lecture series, published as First Nights, which teems with fascinating factoids to help us reimagine what the scenes of said premieres may have been like. Following the public rehearsal of Messiah on April 9, 1742, the official world premiere occurred on April 13, 1742, at the Great Music Hall in Dublin, having been postponed a day to allow for “several persons of distinction” to be able to attend; the “ladies who honour this performance with their presence” were requested to attend “without hoops” so as to make room for others. All told, the Great Music Hall would have accommodated about 700 (hoopless) people — though of course a seat would be reserved for our prospective time-traveler.

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(c)2014 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: choral music, essay, Handel, oratorio, sacred music

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