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The First Successful Performance of the Handel’s Messiah


Messiah (Handel) is an Oratorio of the English language, composed by George Frederic. As many people say, the Handles Messiah was like an Easter offering first performed on stage on April 13, 1742, at the scene of Music Hall in Dublin. The “Messiah” oratorio is mainly a fixture of the Christmas season in which the for many choirs, the work is the heart of the high point of year and repertoire. In many of Handel’s oratorios performances, the soloists dominate as the choir sings on brief choruses. The chorus makes the work prowl forward, uplifting messages and creating immense emotional impacts.

This paper, however, researches and studies the first performance successful performance of the Handel Messiah, which was done in the year 1742 in Dublin. It further explains the London performances, which were not as successful as the first performances in Dublin. It also describes the increase in performances after the death of George Frederic Handel, giving reasons why the performances increased than before. It also explains and studies the influence of the Oratorio on Beethoven’s later years and gives clarifications about Mozart’s arrangements. Later, the paper discusses the modern performances in which it encompasses both the professional small-scaled concerts and the large-scale performances of the Messiah.

The First Performance of Handel Messiah

According to Shaw Watkins in the book The Story of Handel’s Messiah, Handel’s first performance was performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742, preceded by a public rehearsal. The Dublin performance was the first successful performance of the Messiah, which, even at present, has three copies in which one of them is ‘imperfect’; people recognize them from a word book issued in Dublin in 1742. One of the surviving copies is at the moment in the British Museum. Many people may need to understand what led to the success of this first performance.

Studies show that George Frederic Handel, who composed the Messiah born in Upper Saxony, had great success with his Italian operas after he had emigrated to London at the age of 27 years. When he composed “Messiah,” the Italian opera gradually lost fame, and his fortunes steadily diminished. As explained, one of his friend’s musicians Mathew Dubourg, arranged for Handel to be invited to Dublin by three charitable societies in which he was to perform in six concerts. As Handel prepared for the performance in Dublin, he gathered a chorus and an orchestra from the two cathedrals of the city and rehearsed with them on “Messiah.” His public rehearsal attracted public interest as the performance encouraged and urged the ladies to put on hoops while the men were to carry swords at the concert.

People of Dublin enormously endorsed the performance of how good the performance had been. People regard The performance as one of the Dubliners’ most outstanding performances of all time. The performance was a representation of their culture. An open-air concert is held on fishable Street every April 13 to remember the performance. The way the performance was done and organized makes the Dublin performance of the “Messiah” outstanding. Due to the performance, the Dublin performance was the most successful one of the “Messiahs,” maybe even until now. People of Dublin remember George Fredric due to this performance and the introduction of the “Messiah” oratorio.

London Performances and Why they were not Very Much Successful

The first performance of the sacred oratorio “Messiah,” composed and written by George Frederic Handel, appeared on the London stage on March 23, 1743. Even though the Frederic choral work has been termed as one of the greatest works in the history of music, it was not received, and hence it had controversies compared to the Dublin performance of 1742. Many people might be concerned about how the implementation was not successful and the story behind the unsuccessfulness of this performance.

As many discussions suggest, the oratorio was written, George Handel used a libretto compiled by Charles Jennens from England’s church book of common prayer and bible verses. However, it is claimed that Handel wrote the work about the Messiah in a short period, while Jennens had the thoughts that the work needed more time for its accomplishment. Again, Jennens was upset about Handel’s time to accomplish the job and the Dublin premiering of the work. He had wanted the work to be reserved and be premiered in London rather than in Dublin. Another controversy that arose from the London performance is that Irish Clerics led by Jonathan Swift argued that if their choirs were to be used in the performance of the oratorio, the sales from the tickets were to go to the charity, which caused troubles for the “Messiah” oratorio. The arguments show that Jennens and the Irish clerics were not in for the performance.

Handel managed to prepare for the performance with the Jennens and the Irish cleric’s critics. However, even though he had done the preparations, controversies still arose as some people were against a theme termed sacred being performed in a secular setting (London’s Covenant Garden Theater). However, due to the acceptance of handles music, the controversies disappeared.

Due to all these scores being related to the London performance, it is clear that the London performance was not as successful as maybe Handel had expected. Due to the scores, Handel rewrote some parts in which his collaborator saw them as poor. Due to the revisions from some sections of the oratorio, today’s performances do not have these scores anymore. Due to the unexpected failure of the Oratorio in London, it is essential to note that the oratorio was revised; hence there are different versions of the same oratorio “Messiah” today.

The Death of Handel and the Increase in Performers of The Oratorio “Messiah”

Handel contracted blindness, which led to a decrease in performances of the Oratorio “Messiah.” By 1754 he had been afflicted severely to the onset of blindness, which made him turn the messiah performance to the changing of the Messiah hospital performance to J.C Smith, one of his pupils. Handel resumed some of his duties in the “Messiah” Oratorio in 1757 of which he might have continued after that was not for his illnesses. The final performance of the oratorio, in which Handel was present, was performed at Covenant Garden on April 6, 1759. Handel, however, died on April 14, 1759, just eight days after the performance of the oratorio. Handel’s passing way did not mean that the oratorio was not going to be performed again; after his death, the performances of the “Messiah increased immensely.”

After his death, people did performances throughout New York, Florence, Hamburg, and Manheim when Mozart heard about it first. The hospital performance of 1754 is thought to be typical; hence the musical forces have continually used it. After the death of Handel, the performances have continued to grow from just being small-scale performances to large-scale performances. The world has evolved; reorchestratration of the oratorio to accommodate new tastes and audiences has been done occassionally. For example, Johan Adam Hiller, in 1786at the berlin cathedral, presented the oratorio with an updated scoring. Again in 1788, Hiller presented a revised performance version of the same oratorio. During this presentation, Hiller had an increased group of performers compared to the previous performances during the times of Handel. The performance comprised a choir of 259. Mozart was also instructed to reorchestrate some of the works belonging to Handel, including Messiah. In his reorchestration, he did away with the organ continue while adding other parts of clarinets, horns, trombones, and flutes. He also rearranged some features while adding others.

As time moved by, more performers increased during the performance of the oratorio (“Messiah”). In the British and United States, for example, the performance of the Messiah was different from Handel’s practice in which there are increased editions of the oratorio with more performers. For instance, in the middle of the 19th century, New York hosted the Messiah presentation in which a chorus of 300 performed. In 1865 in Boston, performers presented the Messiah oratorio in which a chorus of more than 600. In Britain, during the holding of the “Grand Handel Festival,” which was held in crystal palace, Messiah was performed. A chorus of 2000 singers was represented, accompanied by an orchestra of 500. All these performances have increased in time due to the increase in performance calls.

Mozart’s Arrangements

The arrangements of Mozart on the Messiah were made in 1789, in which they were intended for the performances at Baron Gottfried Van Sweetens private concerts in Vienna. These concerts featured the top oratorios of Handel and were paid mainly by wealthy sponsors. Messiah premiered at these private concerts on March 6, 1789, in which Mozart had directed the orchestra in his arrangements of Handel’s work. According to studies, Mozart’s approach towards the Messiah was more of an ‘interpreter’ than a ‘composer. Mozart’s sense of the Messiah accompanied the brass in choruses and the woodwind sound. Scholars argue that Mozart had great affection and sensibility to the Handel’s as he introduced a horn as opposed to a horn in ‘The trumpet shall sound”.

Mozart’s arrangements were almost the same as those made by Hiller, only that his arrangements had minor additions. As Moritz Hauptmann said, the stucco ornaments on the marble temple are the best way to describe the branches. Mozart’s arrangements were finally published in 1803, shortly after his death. Mozart’s additions became familiar with audiences from Britain, which led to these versions being incorporated into editions such as the Ebenezer Prout.

Influence of the Messiah on Beethoven’s later years

Ludwig Beethoven had always adored the works of Handel; he even described Handel as the greatest composer to have lived. In a letter that he wrote to Rudolph in 1819, he describes Handel as one of the old masters and claims their value to the artistic world. During his last decade, 1817 – 1827, he spoke about Messiah oratorio with great praise. Even though Mozart was the greatest composer during his early years as a child, this ideology changed during his last decade on earth. In 1823, he even claimed that he could even kneel and uncover his face in Handel’s tomb, a clear indication that the ‘Messiah’ oratory had changed his view about choral composers. During the last days of his illness, Beethoven received the complete edition of Handel’s works which he described as glorious. In 1827, he also told his doctor that if there were a doctor who could heal his illness, then the doctor’s name would be Wonderful. These statements showed that his view on Handel’s music was consistent and was appropriate for grand state occasions (Cooper and Larkin).

To show how the last years of Beethoven were, he knew many of Handel’s choral works, including Saul, Julius Caesar, Esther, Messiah, among other oratorios., the Saul oratorio was found in one of his conversations of 1820, which is an indication of Handel’s influence. The knowledge of the works of Handel changed Beethoven’s lifestyle as he even hosted musical gatherings on Sundays. Their plan focused on the vocal music and instrumentals of Handel and the Bach family.

Not forgetting Beethoven was a composer himself; his admiration and adoration for his idol Handel made him compose music out of influence. His oratorio of the twelve variations for Cello and piano was inspired by the performance of Judas Maccabeus in Vienna. The composition of twelve variations derived its theme from Handel’s chorus “See the Conquering hero comes,” which perfectly indicates Handel’s influence on Beethoven’s life. Beethoven directly affected Handel’s Music, which is seen through the way he provided his themes, the transcription of figures, and the emulation of Handel’s manner and style of delivery.

The oratorio “Messiah,” which is Handel’s work, might have also played a vital role in the composition of “Misa Solemnis,” a piece composed by Beethoven. There is a remarkable resemblance between the choruses of the two oratorios, as many scholars reveal. The ways of message delivery in the two oratorios are almost similar, and this can be seen in how Beethoven included the fugal subject of the “Dona nobis Poem”(Cooper and Larkin). Besides “Messiah” influence on the Oratorio of “Missa Solemnis,” it is also a form of passage of the Benedictus compared to the slow movement.

Beethoven did not only emulate handles ways of writing oratorios but also presented and performing them. The reworking of his works included the use of melodies that are composite in which different voices offer a single melodic statement. The modeling and sketching of music were almost similar to the ones used by Handel. This can be seen in the models of “Messiah” by Handel and “Missa Solemnis” his work.

The works of Handel’s greatly influenced the way Beethoven wrote and gave out his messages. The writing and presentation of ideas by Beethoven and Handel were all similar in one way or the other. Handel’s work of the oratorio “Messiah” had a significant impact on how Beethoven handled his work. we can also see that Beethoven modeled his Oratorio of “Gloria” based on the “Messiah” ideas which is another clear indication that Handel influenced the way Beethoven composed his songs.

Modern Performance

Professional small-scaled performances

Even though the “Messiah” oratorio was produced in the olden ages, it is still being performed today. It was conducted in the 20th century, and it is still being performed in the 21st century. In 19th century, the oratorio had had a lot of editions and alterations; hence this led to increasing calls for the performance of the original version of Handel’s conception. In 1902, Ebenezer Prout managed to produce a new edition of the “Messiah,” which was created from the original manuscripts of Handel other than from the most edited and printed versions, which contained a lot of errors as they accumulated from one edition to the next. With the development in our today, the performance has been taken from one level to another which includes the addition of some accompaniments and reduction of others. Prout believed in making the oratorio as original as Handel’s wanted it to be, which led to the addition of the trumpets, which had been omitted in the previous years by Mozart.

In an attempt to make the oratory as original as possible, the number of the chorus has been gradually reduced. For example, in Handel’s grand festival of 1922, the orchestra was 64, and the choir was composed of 163, a significant reduction of the number to make it more authentic. The number of the chorus has been gradually reduced over the years. By 1950 the performance conducted by John Tobin at the St Pauls cathedral consisted of a choir of 60. In 1965, the authenticity of the olat was improved in which Watkins Shaw published and edited a new version of the “Messiah” olatarion. The work has been performed frequently in different areas of the new world, emphasizing making it more original. even though performers are always trying to make it seem as authentic as possible, scholars argue that it cannot be made to be as original as the first set of the olatarion “Messiah.”

Works Cited

Burrows, Donald, and Watkins Shaw. “Handel’s’ Messiah’: supplementary notes on sources.” Music & Letters 76.3 (1995): 356-368.

Carr-Richardson, Amy. “Handel’s Messiah as Model and Source for Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.” Musicological Explorations 13 (2012): 93-124.

Cooper, Martin, and Edward Larkin. Beethoven, the Last Decade, 1817-1827. Oxford University Press, USA, 1985.

Coopersmith, J. M. “Handel’s Messiah; A Touchstone of Taste.” (1948): 367-369.

Cottle, Andrew. “Mozart’s Arrangement of” Messiah.” Choral Journal 31.9 (1991): 19.

Handel, George Frideric, Alfred Mann, and Charles Jennens. Messiah. Courier Corporation, 1989.

Shaw, Watkins. The Story of Handel’s Messiah, 1741-1784: A Short Popular History. Novello, 1963.

Keyte, Hugh. “John Byrt (1940–2021).” (2021): 321-322.


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