The Genesis, Historical Context And The Various Versions Of Messiah During Handel's Lifetime.
Date : 30/12/2014
In preparation for concerts in Dublin, Handel asked certain soloists and musicians to accompany him: 'Handel arranged for a Mr Maclaine, an organist, and his wife, a soprano...as well as Signora Avolio, also a soprano...The leading instrumentalist in Dublin was Matthew Dubourg'. Handel mentions bringing both Mr Dubourgh (Dubourg) and Sigra Avolio to Dublin with him in a letter to Jennens on 29th December 1741. Handel organised, with Dublin's Charitable Musical Society, the first performance of Messiah for, originally, the 12th April 1742, as stated in The Dublin Journal (23 - 27 March). The concert was for the 'relief of the prisoners in the several gaols, and for the support of Mercer's Hospital in Stephen's-street, and of The Charitable Infirmary on the Inns Quay'. The Journal states that the 'Grand Oratorio call'd the Messiah' will be performed in the 'Music Hall in Fishamble Street', with men of both the Cathedral Choirs taking part. However, the date of the performance changed and in a article in The Dublin News Letters (10 April) it states that the concert would be on 13th April at 'forenoon'. Shaw agrees with Burrows over the date and time of the first performance of Messiah. Another newspaper, The Dublin Journal (10 April), asked ladies attending the performance to 'come without hoops...as it will greatly increase the charity, by making room for more company'. A similar advert on the same day asked men to 'come without swords' for the same reason. This seems to suggest that there was a definite excitement and eagerness, of the Dublin public, to hear Handel's new music, perhaps as a result of his previous concert series. Regarding the performers at the premiere of Messiah there is some doubt. Shaw states that Avolio sang soprano at the premiere, as indicated by her advertisement in Faulkner's Journal (April 13-17, 1742) but not in The Dublin Gazette or The Dublin News-Letters on the same day. In the conducting score, the name of Mrs Maclaine is 'noted against a few soprano items, but there is no mention of Signora Avolio'. It is possible that these notes are from the second performance when Mrs Maclaine may have replaced Signora Avolio. According to an article in The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular (1902), 700 people attended the premiere of Messiah, 400 Irish pounds was collected and 127 Irish pounds went to each charity. One newspaper reviewed the performance of Messiah as 'to be the finest composition of Musick that ever was heard'. Of the subsequent performances in London and their reception, 'it is noteworthy that no word of criticism is known concerning the property of the work or the place of its performance in Dublin'. Regarding Messiah's religious reception in Dublin, The Dean of St Patrick's disapproved of the Vicars Choral performing it. There were approaches to the Deans and Chapters of both the Cathedrals in order to 'ask for the official corporate participation of the Cathedral choirs'. Permission was granted because of the 'charitable object' of the performance. It is possible that the Vicars Choral of St Patrick's Cathedral were withdrawn from the fourth performance leaving Handel with smaller forces. Acceptance of Messiah in Dublin was apparent in a memorandum by the Bishop of Elphin after attending a performance saying he approved of the religious subject of the oratorio, 'which is the greatest & most interesting.' Handel stayed in Dublin for nine months, and left on August 13th 1742, as documented in Faulkner's Journal. His last performance of Messiah in Dublin was on 1st June, as reference in The Dublin Journal (29 May - 1 June). Messiah's reception in London Handel performed Messiah in London on 23rd March 1743, after a series of concerts, although it was advertised in The Daily Advertiser and The London Daily Post under the title A New Sacred Oratorio. Handel kept away from the title Messiah for New Sacred Oratorio to avoid any ecclesiastical offense. Although, in 1744, a performance by The Academy of Ancient Musick, under the name Messiah, A Sacred Oratorio, went without any beating. According to Shaw, Messiah was not 'enthusiastically received' in its first stint in London. An article by 'Philalethes' in The Universal Spectator, published on the same day as Messiah's first performance in London, condemns the theatre performances as being of blasphemous nature. The correspondent stated in the article that 'an Oratorio either is an Act of Religion, or it is not; if it is, I ask if the Playhouse is a fit Temple to perform in'. He also questions the appropriateness of the singers; that the performers were 'a Set of People very unfit to perform so solemn a Service'. Not everyone shared the opinion of 'Philalethes'; a satirical retort to the article was published in The Daily Advertiser, 31st March 1743, in verse. Even with this pressure from the religious community, it did not prevent Handel from 'completing his second subscri ption successfully with three performances of Messiah...finishing on 31 March'. Versions and Revisions of Messiah (1742 - 1759) The first movement I will focus on, regarding versions and revisions, is How beautiful are the feet, a piece numerously reworked because of Handel's 'continuing dissatisfaction' with it. Handel's first setting of the text is as a Da Capo aria for soprano in G minor, using a middle section of Their sound is gone out. It is this version, without the second section, that is most used today. However, it is possible that the Da Capo form of How beautiful are the feet was never performed in Handel's lifetime. Handel composed a replacement for the Da Capo aria for the Dublin premiere, this was the duet version of How beautiful are the feet, 'found in the body of the autograph' (36a//34b). The duet version was probably written for 'two men from the Cathedral choirs'. Handel replaced the words of How beautiful are the feet, from Romans Chapter 10, with words from Isaiah, although still containing a version of the original text, the Isaiah text contains nothing that resembles Their sound is gone out. In 1743, Handel retained the Dublin duet version of How beautiful are the feet, but rescued the words Their sound is gone out by writing a tenor arioso in F major. From studying the workbooks 'the F major tenor arioso or the Eb major chorus Their sound is gone out generally was only sung when How beautiful are the feet was sung as an air'. 'It may reasonably be assumed, therefore, that the tenor arioso Their sound is gone out in F Major was intended to follow the D minor alto duet and chorus How beautiful are the feet, on the reverse side of which it is written', F major related to D minor. In 1745 Jennens found Handel's aria of Their sound is gone out 'too bland for its purpose', 'something stronger was needed to provoke a reaction in the following movement'. Instead Handel composed a chorus (37/39/35a), in place of Their sound is gone out, restoring the 'A' section of his original aria version (36/38i/34ax) to precede it. In 1749, Handel abandoned the Isaiah duet and chorus version of How beautiful are the feet, and its 'pendant aria' Their sound is gone out, for the Romans' text, 12-8 time, G minor version. In 1750, for the Foundling Hospital performances, Handel recomposed the setting for an alto Guadagni (36b/38ii/34b), it was the last setting that Handel wrote for Messiah. This setting is mostly a transposition of the G minor aria, into C minor, and like the G minor version, this led to the chorus Their sound is gone out. According to Burrows, the music of this setting is 'adequate, and sufficiently different from its soprano progenitor to justify occasional inclusion', but it lacks an 'urgent creative energy' that is apparent in the other recompositions. Burrows suggests that It could have been recomposed quickly 'between performances in 1750', when there could have been a stronger alto force than soprano. Although, Shaw states that this C minor version was either written for a 1751 or 1753 performance because it is not apparent in a 1750 work book. In 1754, How beautiful was the feet was transposed up for a soprano. Due to Handel's deteriorating eyesight, he could not, as normal, arrange a more 'involved form of creative re-composition'. Old versions were revived to create variety in performances; Handel may have revived the duet and chorus Isaiah version to accomplish this. The second movement I am going to discuss is Rejoice greatly. It was shortened even before the premiere of Messiah because Handel was concerned about a 'sprawl' of music. The 12/8 version is very long, 113 bars, plus it has a Da Capo repeat of the first 9 bars. An interesting point about Handel's instrumental writing for this movement was that the bass part is written in common time, a frequent occurrence in baroque music.
The opening bars of the movement presented below:
The main recomposition of Rejoice greatly was in 1745 when Handel 're-casted' the movement into common time; It was undertaken to reduce the 'excessive amount of compound metre at the end of part one'. A section from both versions presented below:
This setting became permanent and replaced previous settings. Shaw disagrees with Burrows over the date of recomposition for the common time movement; he believes it was adapted in 1749. Handel recomposed the setting in two stages: first he cut out a section and wrote a 'short link-passage to affect a suitable join', making it now 108 bars long and no longer containing a Da Capo. The second stage was to rewrite the parts into common time, 'thus giving the movement more brilliant semiquaver movement in place of the former triplets'. The third movement I am going to discuss is But who may abide, originally set for bass soloist in 3/8. For the Dublin premiere the movement was a recitative, as referred to in the 1742 Dublin work-book; this was later revived in 1749. For a London performance in 1743, the movement was adapted from the original bass aria to tenor, for Lowe. The unity of the same voice allocation of the original aria and recitative was broken when 'Handel re-allocated the aria to tenor in 1743'. As with How beautiful are the feet, Handel recomposed But who may abide for Guadagni. In 1750 Handel perceived the 'original bass aria as being rather in his 'old' style, and also saw the opportunity for a different musical treatment of the 'refiners fire'. The Guadagni version contains the well known prestissimo to the words the 'refiners fire'. Handel realised that 'the effect of the aria's second part would be improved if the melismatic treatment of the 'refiners fire' was heard once only'. The 1750 setting 'significantly shifts the musical weight of the aria'; the longer aria draws attention to itself, whereas the original more clearly led into the chorus - 'the climax of the musical group'. Both the original bass aria and the recitative, now 'give place' to the latest alto version, written for Guadagni. This version was 'later allotted by Handel to a soprano', transposed to A minor in 1754.
This resource was uploaded by: Guy
Other articles by this author
- Principal musical characteristics of Benjamin Britten's Opera Billy Budd
- The experimental nature of Verdi's opera Rigoletto (1851)