George Frederick Handel's Messiah, that musically indispensable part of the Christmas season, wasn't written for Christmas at all.
|The manuscript of "Worthy is the Lamb," from Handel's Messiah (source: Wikimedia Commons)|
Messiah, originally written to benefit the Foundling Hospital in Dublin, was premiered in 1742 during the season of Lent, the penitential time of year preceding Easter.
Handel had more or less invented the oratorio as a way of staging performances at that time of year. Opera houses were dark for the season, so the oratorio, with the recitatives, arias, and choruses of opera but none of the staging, was a pathway to entertaining, dramatic music and performances ... and the resulting box office receipts.
But not long after that first performance, Messiah found a home during the Christmas season, and it's stayed there almost exclusively ever since. The Handel and Haydn Society gave the U.S. premiere in 1818, and now Messiah can be found every year in countless performances around the country.
I looked into the Messiah phenomenon with Thomas Forrest Kelly of Harvard University, Handel and Haydn Society Artistic Director Harry Christophers, and Masterworks Chorale Music Director Steven Karidoyanes. To hear the feature, click on "Listen" above.
Here are a few of the performances this season:
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