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The Messiah

Handel's oratorio Messiah is his most famous work (approached only by his Water Music) and remains a firm favourite with concert goers to this day. Any modern listing of the most often performed classical works must include Messiah, and may well be topped by it. Oddly, although the text is devoted to resurrection and salvation, since Handel's death it has become traditional to perform the Messiah at Christmas rather than at Easter.

In early 1742 Handel, at the peak of his musical power but depressed and in debt, began setting Charles Jennens' biblical libretto to music at his usual breakneck speed. In just 21 days, the Messiah was complete, and it was first performed at a charity concert in Dublin on 8th April. Like many of Handel's compositions, it borrows liberally from earlier works, both his own and those of others.

Handel himself conducted Messiah many times, often altering it to suit the needs of the moment. In consequence no single version can be regarded as the "authentic" one, and many more variations and rearrangements were added in subsequent centuries. Most modern performances employ orchestra, choir, and four soloists: bass, tenor, contralto or counter-tenor, and soprano.

Usage: Although this oratorio is popularly known as The Messiah, the title has no the. To many English ears, at least, the correct version "sounds wrong".

Other meanings for "messiah"

  • Messiah in the sense of a religious leader.


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