The Anniversary of the First Performance of Handel’s “Messiah”


Zwinglius Redivivus

[In 1742 a] group of Dublin charities approached Handel to compose a work for a benefit performance. The money raised would help free men from debtor’s prison, and Handel would receive a generous commission. Now with a text and a motivation, Handel began composing Messiah on August 22, 1741. Within six days, Part One was finished. In nine more, Part Two. Six more and Part Three was done. It took him only an additional two days to finish the orchestration. Handel composed like a man obsessed. He rarely left his room and rarely touched his meals.

But in 24 days he had composed 260 pages—an immense physical feat. When he finished writing what would become known as the Hallelujah Chorus, he said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.”

Though the performance of the piece again caused controversy (Jonathan Swift, author of…

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