Handel’s Messiah, an Easter Composition?

This morning, on the way to Easter lunch at Gran’s, Roger turned on the Academy of Ancient Music’s version of Handel’s Messiah and played the second half of the composition, the part dedicated to Easter.

It may come as a surprise to some that The Messiah was written as an Easter piece, by George Frederic Handel, a little over 250 years ago. The oratorio debuted in Dublin, Ireland, for a standing-room only audience of 700 people. According to an excellent historical piece,  “The Glorious History of Handel’s Messiah” written by Jonathan Kendall and published in Smithsonian Magazine in 2009, the performance in Dublin on April 13, 1742 was a little like trying out a musical in a smaller city before moving it to Broadway.  Handel was already a superstar and one of the soloists was Susannah Cibber, the century’s most popular actress who was embroiled in the scandal of divorce.

Now performed almost exclusively during the Christmas season, everyone knows the “Hallelujah Chorus” and a few of the solo pieces.  It’s interesting to listen to the entire oratorio (a little over three hours), moving beyond the most familiar parts to a greater awareness of the language and themes.

Interestingly, Handel composed the entire piece the summer of 1741 in a stretch of a few weeks in August and September.  According to biographers, he literally wrote from morning to night.

Except for our annual enjoyment of the recording sometime during Christmas week and, less often, at Easter, I have fond memories of my friends rehearsing for The Messiah performances at Hood College, a 60-year tradition with the Naval Academy.  Now, Hood performs with other colleges, like Mount St. Mary’s University, but in my day and in my mother’s day, The Messiah was also an opportunity to sing and socialize with the midshipmen!