Friday, December 6 • 7:30 pm
Saturday December 7 • 7:30 pm
Visit the Charlotte Symphony site to learn more and purchase tickets.
When George Fridirich Handel settled in London in 1712, the Italian opera scene was thriving. He soon became its leading figure with a succession of brilliant works. The economics of opera, though, were constantly on a knife-edge, and making a profit on these costly ventures was difficult and unpredictable. Despite critical acclaim, Handel’s Italian operas never attracted large audiences. Public taste was changing quickly, and by the 1730s, audiences were becoming increasingly intolerant of the unfamiliar language, ridiculous plots, arrogant soloists, and over-elaborate music. They demanded something less highbrow and more homegrown. Handel had invested heavily in his own company, and this alarming collapse seriously affected his finances.
Handel composed Messiah in just twenty-four days, a remarkably short space of time, though not exceptional by Handel’s usual standards. What is almost beyond comprehension, however, is how in these three weeks he was able to create a work of such sustained inspiration, power, and seemingly inexhaustible invention.
Faced with possible bankruptcy the ever-resourceful composer turned to oratorio as a potential solution to his financial difficulties. Though oratorio has much in common with opera, it is not staged and consequently a great deal less costly to produce. It was a genre in which Handel had already experienced some modest success, beginning with his first English oratorio,Esther, composed in 1720. He now found himself working more and more on oratorios, and in February 1741, he staged his last Italian opera—which closed after just three performances.
In 1741, Handel had already begun work on a new work,Messiah, when he received an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, to visit Dublin. He accepted the invitation, taking his Messiah score with him. The first performance took place at the New Music Hall, Dublin, in April 1742, and was an unqualified success. One effusive review raved: ‘Words are wanting, to express the exquisite Delight [Messiah] afforded to the admiring, crowded Audience. The Sublime, the Grand and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.’
Handel composedMessiah in just twenty-four days, a remarkably short space of time, though not exceptional by Handel’s usual standards. What is almost beyond comprehension, however, is how in these three weeks he was able to create a work of such sustained inspiration, power, and seemingly inexhaustible invention. More than 250 years have passed since its first performance, yet Messiah’s status as one of the great icons of European music remains undiminished, and it continues to speak to millions of people of many cultures and faiths around the world. – John Bawden