About this Recording
8.550317 - HANDEL: Messiah (Choruses)

George Frideric Handel (1685. 1759)

Chorus Excerpts from Messiah George Frideric Handel was born in Hallé in 1685. His elderly father, barber-surgeon to the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, entertained natural prejudices against the choice of music as a profession for his young son, the second child of his second wife, and Handel enjoyed an education that led him, after his father's death, to a brief period of study at the University of Hallé in 1702. The following year he moved to Hamburg, joining the opera there, at first as a string-player, then as harpsichordist and composer. Success in Italian opera in Hamburg coupled with the doubtful musical prospects the city offered, persuaded Handel to try his fortune in Italy, where he spent the years between 1706 and 1710, confirming his generally Italianate style of composition in works for the theatre, the church and private entertainment.

In 1710, rejecting an offer from the ruler of Innsbruck, Handel accepted the position of Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, the future King George I of England, and immediately took leave of absence for the staging of his opera Rinaldo in London, where Italian opera was gradually gaining a place. Two years later he was back in London for good, concerned in particular with the composition, management and presentation of Italian opera. During the following thirty years he wrote nearly forty Italian operas for the London stage, to which he devoted a considerable part of his working life.

Early oratorio may be seen as a by-product of opera as it developed at the turn of the 16th century in Italy. England was late in its grudging acceptance of opera and had shown little interest in oratorio, as it had developed in other countries during the 17th century. Handel had written Italian oratorio in Rome. His first attempt at the new form of English oratorio came in 1732 with his setting of an adaptation of Racine's biblical drama Esther, described by one hostile critic as a "Religious Farce", and certainly a very profitable one to its composer. English oratorio combined the musical delights of Italian opera, with a text in English and a religious subject that might appeal to the Protestant conscience. Since oratorio was not staged, there was also a considerable saving in the cost of production.

Of all English oratorios Handel's Messiah has always been the most overwhelmingly popular. It is the least theatrical of all his oratorios and the most purely sacred in its choice of subject, the Messiah, a compendious version of the coming of Christ, His death and resurrection. The text, by Charles Jennens, drew extensively on the Authorized Version of the Bible, and an additional attraction has always been the large number of choruses included, a larger number than in any other of Handel's oratorios.

Messiah was written with Handel's usual speed in 1741 for performance in Dublin, some of it rehearsed briefly by inadequate singers in Chester, as he made his way to Holyhead to embark for the voyage. The first performance was given at the New Music Hall in Fish-amble Street, Dublin, on 13th April, 1742, in aid of charity. The first London performance took place in Lent 1743 at Covent Garden, but the work failed to please, in part because of reservations that some held about the suitability of such a sacred subject for a theatre. Messiah only achieved its lasting success after performances in 1750 in aid of the Foundling Hospital, established ten years earlier by Captain Thomas Coram. At his death in 1759 Handel left a fair copy of the score and all parts to the Hospital, an institution that continued to benefit from annual performances of the work.

Messiah opens with an Overture in the French style. The first part of the oratorio leads from prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, celebrated by the chorus "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed", to His birth, in the misplaced accentuation of "For unto us a Child is born", adapted from one of Handel's Italian operas, as were certain other elements in the new work. According to common practice, Handel re-used parts of his own earlier compositions here as elsewhere, although borrowings from other composers in Messiah are relatively rare.

The first part of Messiah, which ends with the chorus "His yoke is easy, His burthen is light", includes a Pastoral Symphony, an instrumental interlude that continues the Christmas tradition of using the rhythm of a traditional Sicilian shepherd dance to recall the biblical narrative, "There were shepherds abiding in the field..." Handel's original title for the movement was "Pifa", a reference to the piffaro, the shepherd bagpipes here imitated. The second part of the oratorio opens with the chorus "Behold the lamb of God", and takes the story through Christ's suffering and death to the glory of the Resurrection, celebrated in the famous Hallelujah Chorus, with its brilliant use of the trumpet, the only instrument, apart from strings and keyboard instruments, included in the first version of the score for Dublin.

The third part of the oratorio, which opens with the well known aria "I know that my Redeemer liveth", celebrates victory over death, ending with "Worthy is the lamb that was slain", which moves directly into the final impressive Amen chorus that ends the work.

Bratislava City Choir
The Bratislava Chamber Choir was formed in 1971 from former members of various university choirs. Eight years later it took the name of the Bratislava City Choir, in recognition of its unique position in the cultural life of the Slovakian capital, with its long musical traditions. The choir has enjoyed the services of conductors of great distinction during the twenty years it has been in existence and since 1977 has been under the direction of Ladislav Holasek, the chorus master of the Slovak National Opera. The choir has a busy schedule at home, performing regularly at the annual Bratislava Music Festival and with the major orchestras of Slovakia. Abroad the choir has taken part in a number of international competitions throughout Europe, from Llangollen to Greece, winning many awards.

Capella Istropolitana
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its name drawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the orchestra works in the recording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.

Jaroslav Kr(e)chek
The Czech conductor and composer Jaroslav Kr(e)chek was born in southern Bohemia in 1939 and studied composition and conducting at the Prague Conservatory .In 1962 he moved to Pilsen as a conductor and radio producer and in 1967 returned to Prague to work as a recording supervisor for Supraphon. In the capital he founded the Chorea Bohemica ensemble and in 1975 the chamber orchestra Musica Bohemica. In Czechoslovakia he is well known for his arrangements of Bohemian folk music, while his electro-acoustic opera Raab was awarded first prize at the International Composer's Competition in Geneva. He is the artistic leader of Capella Istropolitana.

Close the window