Hendel’s Oratorio ‘Messiah’ tells the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, entirely through quotations from the Bible. Its premiere was given in Dublin during the Lenten fast, and from the very beginning it touched hearts and changed lives.
MESSIAH is an Oratorio based on the life of Jesus Christ, with words (consisting entirely of cleverly arranged quotations from the Bible) by Charles Jennens, and music by George Frideric Handel.
It was first performed in Dublin, Ireland, on April 13th, 1742, with the proceeds donated to charity, securing the release of a hundred and forty-two inmates of a debtors’ prison.
Dublin loved it. One clergyman was so moved that after the aria ‘He was despisèd’ he leapt to his feet and cried out to the soloist, Susanna Cibber, "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!".*
London was less enthusiastic. But Handel persisted, performing the work for an orphanage in the capital every year from 1750. Gradually, Messiah’s popularity increased, even abroad - in 1777, Mozart heard it in Mannheim - and since the Victorian era it has been a staple of professional choirs and amateur choral societies across Britain and the world.
* Listen to ‘He was despisèd’ at YouTube. The clergyman was Dr Patrick Delany, chancellor of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Susannah was already becoming a celebrity actress, as popular as her brother Thomas Arne (best known today for his songs “Rule Britannia!” and “God Save the King”). It was no secret that Susannah’s abusive and debt-ridden husband, actor Theophilus Cibber, had twice taken her to court for adultery.
The ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ which closes Part Two (of Three). Performed by the Choir of Westminster Abbey and the Academy of Ancient music, directed by Christopher Hogwood.
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
King of kings, and Lord of lords.