About this Recording
8.553258 - HANDEL, G.F.: Messiah (Highlights) (Scholars Baroque Ensemble)

George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
The Messiah (Highlights)

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 sixteenth 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 seventeenth century. Handel had written Italian oratorio in Rome. His first attempt at the new form of English oratorio carne 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.

Keith Anderson

The Scholars Baroque Ensemble
The scholars Baroque Ensemble was founded in 1987 by David van Asch with the idea of complementing the "a capella" work of the vocal ensemble THE SCHOLARS. This group, consisting also of the soprano Kym Amps, counter tenor Angus Davidson and tenor Robin Doveton, has had worldwide success during the last twenty years.

The members of THE SCHOLARS BAROQUE ENSEMBLE are all specialists in the field of Baroque music and play original instruments (or copies) using contemporary techniques, singers and players work together without a director to produce their own versions of great masterpieces such as the St. John Passion by Bach, the 1610 Vespers by Monteverdi, Dido and Aeneas and The Fairy Queen by Purcell, the Messiah and Acis and Galatea by Handel, all of which are being released by Naxos. Concert performances by the ensemble have been highly praised by critics and audiences alike.

The artistic aim of the ensemble goes far beyond that of so-called "authenticity"; more important is the clarity and vitality achieved by the use of a minimum number of players and singers per part, normally only one (as in this recording), which was common practice in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Close the window