The musical work known as the Messiah had its debut in 1742, featuring an orchestra, choir, and soloists. Which composer wrote Messiah?
Written by German-British composer George Frideric Handel, Messiah is one of the most frequently performed choral works in Western music. It's perhaps best-known for its powerful "Hallelujah" chorus. Some 260 years later, it remains a fixture of the holiday season.
Interestingly, Handel's Messiah was originally an Easter offering. Crowds swarmed to the April performance and were immediately captivated by the the opening tenor call, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." As a joyous and elaborate celebration of the rebirth of Christ, Handel's oratorio was an instant success. In fact, at the site of the original performance, the Musick Hall in Dublin, management pleaded that ladies leave the hoops of their skirts at home in order to make room for more guests.
Handel was a music prodigy from a young age. Born into an affluent German household, the young composer played the organ by age 11 and had composed his first opera by age 18. Soon after, he entered the music scene in London. A commercial boom underpinned by overseas trade broke the monopoly on cultural patronage by the nobility, and opened the door to new and varied expressions of music. Yet, the opera scene was dramatic, costly and popular, so it wasn't long until Handel found himself drawn to the less logistically-complex oratorio. Like the opera it utilized a full chorus, orchestra and soloists, but unlike the opera there were no costumes or fanfare.
Though much of his work celebrated religion, Handel's focus was more human than divine. His lyrics celebrated the reception of God's glory from a mortal point of view, as seen in pieces like the jovial "Hallelujah." Messiah prophesied the birth of Jesus Christ; the second exalted his sacrifice for humankind; and the final section heralded his Resurrection.
Listen to Handel's revered "Hallelujah" chorus as performed by the Royal Choral Society below: