23 Mar: Handel’s Biggest Hit

Hallelujah! Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is one of the cornerstones of Western classical music. But when it had its London premiere at Covent Garden on 23rd March 1743, it was billed as “a new sacred oratorio”, lest the real title of the show seem blasphemous.

To further mitigate the problem of performing religious work in a secular playhouse, librettist Charles Jennens ensured that no one singer could be said to be ‘playing’ the role of Christ, and profits from the show were donated to charity.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how fashionable Italian singers were liable to attract as much laughter as praise; reveal what Mozart and Beethoven made of Handel’s masterpiece; and explain how the production at Crystal Palace in 1850 blew the original out of the water… 

Further Reading:

• ‘The Glorious History of Handel’s Messiah’ (Smithsonian Magazine, 2009): https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-glorious-history-of-handels-messiah-148168540/

• ‘Charles Jennens: The unsung hero of Handel’s Messiah’ (The Globe and Mail, 2016): https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/music/charles-jennens-the-unsung-hero-of-handels-messiah/article33389290/

• ‘’Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah’ (Royal Choral Society, 2012):