Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Handel Messiah

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Messiah

Messiah (never, please, “The” Messiah) received its premiere performance 278 years ago yesterday, at The Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin, Ireland. As noted in yesterday’s Music History Monday post, the performing forces at the premiere were quite modest. Handel composed the work to be premiered in Dublin. Not being intimately familiar with the abilities of the local musicians, he kept the orchestration simple: strings (an unknown number of which played at the premiere), two trumpets, kettle drums (timpani), an organ and a harpsichord (played alternately by Handel himself). The members of the chorus were drawn from the choirs of two local cathedrals: Christ Church and St. Patrick’s (where Jonathan Swift was, at the time, the Dean). Handel’s chorus consisted of 16 men, 16 boys, and two women soloists, the celebrated English contralto Susannah Cibber and Christina Maria Avoglio, an Italian soprano drawn from Handel’s opera company.  Messiah received its London premiere on March 23, 1743, at the Covent Garden theater, and thus the tweaking began. To his original female soloists Susannah Cibber and Christina Maria Avoglio, Handel added a tenor soloist named John Beard, a bass soloist named Thomas Rheinhold, and two more soprano soloists, Kitty Clive and […]

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Music History Monday: Hallelujah!

We mark the first performance on April 13, 1742 – 278 years ago today – of George Frederick Handel’s Messiah in Dublin, Ireland. Messiah is not just Handel’s most famous work, but one of a handful of “most famous works” in the entire Western musical repertoire. According to the American musicologist Joseph Kerman, Messiah is: “the only composition from the Baroque Era that has been performed continuously – and frequently – since its first appearance.” (I typically take comments like that one – even from someone as unimpeachable as Joseph Kerman – as a challenge. But having thought about it, I’ve concluded that Kerman is correct; Messiah is a singular work, one with an unbroken track record of frequent performances since its premiere, something we cannot say about any other musical work from the Baroque era. For example, the major works of Johann Sebastian Bach went unperformed for more than 75 years after his death. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, composed in 1716 and 1717 and published in 1725, fell into almost complete obscurity from the late eighteenth century until the 1940s, when it was recorded for the first time. Handel’s own anthem for chorus and orchestra – Zadok (pronounced “ZAY-dock”) […]

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