Handel's Messiah

A Community Messiah Sing

4PM Sunday December, 14, 2014

Celebrate the season and help inaugurate a new holiday tradition by joining in singing selections from Handel's Messiah.  

Wilson G. Somers will direct the combined Chancel Choir of Advent along with the Tatnall School Concert Choir and professional soloists accompanied by a string quartet.

Featured soloists are sopranos Alexis Droke and Courtney Ames, mezzo-soprano Joanna Gates, tenor Kameron Ghanavati and bass Brian Carter.

A free will offering will be collected to benefit Kennett Food Cupboard.  Bring a canned good and your score.  Scores will also be available at the door for use during the Sing.

If the holidays don't sound the same without Handel, be part of this joyful sing at the Church of the Advent just off of Rt. 1 in Kennett Square, in the heart of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Handel's 'Last Chance' (Part One)

By Wilson G. Somers, Director of Music

The story of the writing of Handel's famous oratorio Messiah is a tale born of circumstance, intrigue and clearly divine intervention. Handel was born in Hanover, a section of Germany, where his father insisted that he study law. Near his 21st birthday, Handel's father died suddenly. Since his family was connected to the Elector (or ruler) know as George of Hanover, Handel requested that he be given a stipend to study the composition of opera in Italy. The agreement was for Handel to return to Hanover (then clearly a culturally rural area) and expose his people to the wonder of opera.

However, Handel had another idea. He became so proficient in the writing and producing of Italian Opera that he set sail for London where he quickly became celebrated as a master of the idiom. Things would have worked out well for Handel if two events had not occurred.

First, his sponsor, George of Hanover married into the English royal line and became George the First of England. (When Handel found this out he must have cried out AHHHHHHHH...') For weeks, Handel tried to avoid the King but to no avail. he finally presented himself at court in a spirit of contrition and told the King that he would write a piece of music for him that would rival anything anyone had ever heard that is 'fit for a King'. Hence, we have the Watermusic, a series of orchestra pieces based on baroque dance rhythms, in order of a baroque suite.

Next even though Handel was known for being a sound businessman, he went bankrupt shortly after the premier of the English parody The Beggar's Opera by John Gay.  The royals and upper classes found Gay's work a delightful spoof (something akin to Mel Brooks) and this literally shut down Handel's Italian Opera career within weeks.

Handel know of the great English choral tradition that predated him from the Tudor period with composers such as Thomas Tallis and Dr. Christopher Tye. Handel researched subjects in the Old Testament and started composing and producting oratorios, which are large scale choral/orchestral works with solos that tell a story without any staging, costumes etc. So then came Saul, Israel in Egypt, Judas Maccabeaus and many others but like his Italian Operas (Xerxes and Deidamia) they all failed and closed after a few performances. In short, Handel was in debt and quite depressed.

In my next installment, I will tell you how Messiah was written and why. It was indeed Handel's 'Last Chance'.

Handel's 'Last Chance' (Part Two)

By Wilson G. Somers, Director of Music

Messiah was the result of a commission. William Cavendish, Third Duke of Devonshire and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland invited Handel to Dublin to present a new work on behalf of three of the city’s charitable organizations. These were known as the Society for Relieving Prisoners; the Charitable Infirmary; and for the Mercer’s Hospital. They were all musical societies that raised funds to help improve the horrible conditions of the Irish poor and to help pay off the debts of those in debtor’s prison.

The libretto was prepared by Charles Jennens, an English Landowner, a Patron of the Arts and a friend of Handel. Jennens also contributed librettos (texts) to other Handel’s oratorio projects. (An oratorio is a large-scale work for soloists, chorus and orchestra that often has a biblical theme. This contrasts with a Mass setting with its predictable text from the ordinary of the mass Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei.)

Once set into motion, Handel burst forth with ‘superhuman’ energy and finished the work in 24 days. He presented two subscription series of six concerts and carefully waited until the final day to present Messiah. After all, Handel was known to be an astute businessman.

The Premiere on April 13, 1742 raised 400 pounds, 127 of which was given to each of the three charities. After this performance Handel received ownership again of Messiah, which permitted him to sell tickets for a subsequent performance.

Interestingly enough, when Handel presented the work in London it was first panned by critics. It was only after Handel mounted a benefit for the London Foundling Hospital that its gained the respect the work deserved. Since then it has continued to be performed in a religious context as it will be on December 14, 4 pm. at Church of the Advent Kennett Square to benefit the needy via the Kennett Food Cupboard.

May Handel’s words come true once again when on speaking to Lord Kinnoull, in 1743 after the first performance of the Messiah “I should be sorry, my Lord, if I have only succeeded in entertaining them; I wished to make them better.”