Monday, March 23, 2015

This Day in Christian History: March 23

This Day in Christian History: March 23

March 23, 1743: Handel's Messiah is Performed for the First Time in London

George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel was born in Germany in 1685. He became a well known British-German composer. His favorite genre of music was the Italian Opera, but during the 1730's, the genre was losing popularity--and funding. To combat this, Handel began composing operas in English. His first English opera composition was Esther, which was first performed for a private gathering in 1718, but later revised and performed publicly in 1732. The success of this first opera encouraged Handel to write more English adaptions including Deborah, Athalia, Saul, and Israel in Egypt.

The success of the English productions so outshined the Italian versions that Handel abandoned the Italian productions all together.

Charles Jennens had composed the text for a new opera and charged Handel with the creation of music to accompany it. In a letter to his friend, Jennens said "I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other subject. The Subject is Messiah"

Charles Jennens
 The opera was first performed in Dublin, and met with great success. It was expected that the popularity of the production in Ireland would be echoed in London, but this was not so. The first performance was dampened by public opinion that the subject matter of the production was too exalted to be performed in a theater, especially by secular singers.

London's chilly reception of The Messiah led Handel to reduce the planned performance season of the opera, which was much to Jennen's annoyance. The friendship between Jennen and Handel suffered during this time.

The Messiah was performed twice, and then shelved for four years. When it was later reintroduced, it was far better received. Despite its rough beginnings, Handel's Messiah has gone on to become on of the most famous compositions in Christian history.

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