An oratorio of George Frideric Handel, composed from 22 August to 12 September (orchestrated by 14 September) 1741, first performed for a charity concert in Dublin on 13 April 1742, {}Messiah is likely the most famous large piece of music set to English text. Its original version is scored for strings, continuo, trumpets, timpani, four vocal soloists (SATB), and four-voice choir (in "Lift Up Ye Heads," five). Handel added oboes, bassoons, and possibly horns as doublings for the London performances (1743), and altered some of the arias, including the vocal solo assignments. The work requires about two and one-half hours to perform.
   Messiah is a singular work even within Handel’s English oratorios, themselves singular in their midway position between the sacred and secular worlds of art music. The London advertisements termed the work "A New Sacred Oratorio" to ward off charges of profaning a sacred subject in the theater. But while almost all his other English oratorios are close to opera in aesthetic, having directed plots motivated by named characters singing arias and recitatives, Messiah is contemplative and abstract. The vocal soloists are anonymous voices, and while there is no doubt that Christ is the subject, the events and ultimate significance of his life, but for a snippet from St. Luke’s Gospel, are alluded to without explicit description. Prophecies from the Old Testament dominate the libretto.
   The libretto was compiled from the King James Bible, with minimal changes, by Handel’s collaborator Charles Jennens (1700–1773) and is in three parts. The first features the traditional messianic prophecies of Isaiah (7, 9, 40, and 60), Malachi and Zechariah, and the shepherd scene from the birth narrative of St. Luke’s Gospel. The second part describes the passion and resurrection obliquely through the "suffering servant" passages of Isaiah (53) and excerpts from the Psalms and Romans. (The tradition of the audience standing for the concluding "Hallelujah" chorus because King George II once did is founded on a dubious anecdote in a letter written 37 years after the first London performance.) The final part covers the general resurrection through 1 Corinthians and Revelation. There are also contributions from Job, Lamentations, and the Gospel of St. John scattered throughout.
   Messiah was revived for London in 1745 and again in 1749, beginning a series of performances for the Foundling Hospital that occurred annually until Handel’s death in 1759 and thereafter until 1777. The full score was published in 1767 (London), allowing more frequent local performances throughout the country. The ‘Commemoration of Handel’ at Westminster Abbey in 1784 may have had as many as 500 performers, anticipating a practice, maintained by the growth of amateur choral societies in the 19th century, of using forces far larger than Handel would ever have imagined. Such performances naturally required massive reinforcements of instruments and entire reorchestrations. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart performed his own such arrangement in 1789. With growing appreciation of Baroque performance practices in the 20th century, recent professional performances and recordings have returned to a scale that Handel might have recognized. Thus, the performance history of Messiah mirrors changing historiographical and aesthetic attitudes about Western classics.
   Indeed, Messiah governed Handel’s very reputation as a composer for more than a century after his death, since, along with Judas Maccabeus and Israel in Egypt, it was virtually the only work of his in the repertory and was performed constantly. The brilliant choruses with sacred text and the famously brief period of composition understandably built an image of Handelian spiritual inspiration foreign to his character. Since the mid-20th century, the image has been filled out. He always worked rapidly; after completing Messiah and taking a week off, he completed Samson by 29 October. Growing familiarity with other, classically oriented oratorios, the 40 operas, and a wealth of instrumental music has somewhat restored to Messiah its peculiar hybrid quality of sacred art as entertainment.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.


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  • MESSIAH — MESSIAH, an anglicization of the Latin Messias, which is borrowed from the Greek Μεσσιας, an adaptation of the Aramaic meshiḥa (Aram. מְשִׁיחָא), a translation of the Hebrew (ha melekh) ha mashi aḥ (Heb. הַמָּשִׁיח (ְהַמֶּלֶך), the Anointed… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Messiah —     Messiah     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Messiah     (Or Messias.)     The Greek form Messias is a transliteration of the Hebrew, Messiah, the anointed . The word appears only twice of the promised prince (Daniel 9:26; Psalm 2:2); yet, when a… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Messiah — (HWV 56, dt. Der Messias) ist ein Oratorium von Georg Friedrich Händel auf Bibeltexte in einer englischsprachigen Zusammenstellung von Charles Jennens für vier Soli (SATB), Chor und Orchester. Es interpretiert die christliche Glaubenslehre… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • messiah — ► NOUN 1) (the Messiah) the promised liberator of the Jewish nation prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. 2) (the Messiah) Jesus regarded by Christians as the Messiah of these prophecies. 3) a leader or saviour. ORIGIN Hebrew, anointed …   English terms dictionary

  • Messiah — Mes*si ah, n. [Heb. m[=a]sh[=i]akh anointed, fr. m[=a]shakh to anoint. Cf. {Messias}.] The expected king and deliverer of the Hebrews; the Savior; Christ. [1913 Webster] And told them the Messiah now was born. Milton. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Messiah — [mə sī′ə] n. [used by the Geneva translators (1560) for LL(Ec) Messias & ME Messie, both (ME via OFr < LL) < Gr(Ec) Messias < Aram měshīḥā, Heb māshīaḥ, lit., anointed] 1. Judaism the promised and expected deliverer of the Jews, who will …   English World dictionary

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  • Messiah — Messiahship, n. Messianic /mes ee an ik/, adj. Messianically, adv. /mi suy euh/, n. 1. the promised and expected deliverer of the Jewish people. 2. Jesus Christ, regarded by Christians as fulfilling this promise and expectation. John 4:25, 26. 3 …   Universalium

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