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Director's Commentary

Handel’s Messiah … I have been privileged to conduct this amazing work many, many times over my career.  Yet – each time I do so, I find yet another new kernel of musical genius.  It is an amazing work and it has an amazing history.

In the early 1740s, Charles Jennings, a wealthy friend and famous librettist, gave Handel a libretto based on the life of Jesus of Nazareth that was taken entirely from the Bible.  (The fact that this libretto came from a single source is worth noting; often sacred libretti included poetry or commentary to support the narrative of the plot as attendees will hear next spring when The Choristers presents Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.)  The libretto began with the Old Testament prophecies foretelling the ministry of Jesus and included the New Testament's accounts of Jesus’ birth (Part One), death (Part Two), and resurrection (Parts Two & Three).

Handel set to work composing music for Jennings’ libretto on August 22, 1741 in his little house on Brook Street in London.  He grew so absorbed in the work that he rarely left his room and barely stopped even to eat for the three weeks he worked on the score.  A friend who visited him during this time found him sobbing with intense emotion.

Within six days, Handel completed Part One.  In just nine more days, he finished Part Two, and, in another six, Part Three.  The orchestration was completed in another two days.  All total, Handel filled 260 pages of manuscript in a remarkably short 23 days.  Sir Newman Flower, one of Handel's many biographers, summarized the consensus of history when he wrote, "Considering the immensity of the work, and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition."

Messiah premiered on April 13, 1742 as a charitable benefit for the Foundling Hospital (a children's home established for the care of orphans.)  Contrary to the usual 100 voice choirs of today that present Messiah, Handel worked with a choir of twenty six boys and only five men from the combined choirs of St. Patrick's and Christ Church Cathedrals participating.  While the premiere was financially successful raising over £400, critically the work was not as well received when it debuted in London.  But Handel made it a recurring part of his schedule of performances and its success grew steadily until Handel’s presentations of Messiah became a “go-to” London concert with standing room only performances.

Handel personally conducted more than thirty performances of Messiah.  Many of these concerts benefitted the Foundling Hospital.  The thousands of pounds Handel's performances of Messiah raised for charity led one biographer to note:

Messiah has fed the hungry, clothed the naked and nourished the orphan.  One cannot escape the observation that these results were the central teachings of the man about whom the work is written.

I am honored to be joined on the podium by the Associate Director of The Choristers ~ Kelly Wyszomierski.  She and I will be each directing approximately half of the music to be presented.  In addition, this is the 4th of the choir’s now annual performance Messiah.  Please allow The Choristers’ annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah become part of your yearly Christmas preparation and celebration.  Enjoy!