At first, George Frideric Handel gained his reputation in England, where he had been living since 1712, composing Italian opera. But as the public taste changed around the 1730s, he turned to English oratorio. Originally met with modest applause, his Messiah would later become one of the best-known, most frequently performed choral works in the history of Western music. In fact, even though he composed his work for relatively small vocal and orchestral forces, the Messiah has been rearranged over and over (even by Mozart) to make the incorporation of larger choruses and orchestras possible, hence making the oratorio a perfect piece for performances in front of large audiences.
The text Handel used was compiled by Charles Jennens (an English patron of the arts who was Handel’s friend, and who would often help him with the libretti for his works) from the King James Bible, and from the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. Jennens’ text is an extended reflection on Jesus’ messianic mission. In fact, the text goes from the prophecies of Isaiah to Jesus’ glorification in Heaven, moving through the Gospel, from the Annunciation to the Resurrection.
First performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742, we here share with you the Messiah, as conducted by Sir Colin Davies, in a BBC special.