seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

First Performance of Handel’s Messiah

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george-friedrich-handelGeorge Friedrich Handel’s Messiah is performed for the first time at Mr. Neale’s Great Musick Hall on Fishamble Street in Dublin on April 13, 1742. It receives its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gains in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

Handel decides to give a season of concerts in Dublin in the winter of 1741–42 arising from an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire, then serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. After arriving in Dublin on November 18, 1741, Handel arranges a subscription series of six concerts, to be held between December 1741 and February 1742 at the Great Musick Hall on Fishamble Street. These concerts are so popular that a second series is quickly arranged. Messiah figures in neither series.

In early March, Handel begins discussions with the appropriate committees for a charity concert, to be given in April, at which he intends to present Messiah. He seeks and is given permission from St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral to use their choirs for this occasion. The women soloists are Christina Maria Avoglio, who sang the main soprano roles in the two subscription series, and Susannah Cibber, an established stage actress and contralto who sang in the second series. The performance, also in the Fishamble Street hall, is originally announced for April 12, but is deferred for one day “at the request of persons of Distinction.” The orchestra in Dublin, the exact size of which is unknown, is comprised of strings, two trumpets, and timpani. Handel has his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performances.

The three charities benefit from the performance – the prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. In its report on a public rehearsal, the Dublin News-Letter describes the oratorio as “… far surpassing anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom.” Seven hundred people attend the premiere on April 13. In order to accommodate the largest possible audience, gentlemen are requested to remove their swords and ladies are asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The performance earns unanimous praise from the assembled press: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded to the admiring and crowded Audience.” A Dublin clergyman, Rev. Delaney, is so overcome by Susanna Cibber’s rendering of “He was despised” that he reportedly leaps to his feet and cries, “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!” The takings amount to around £400, providing about £127 to each of the three nominated charities and securing the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Handel remains in Dublin for four months after the premiere. He organises a second performance of Messiah on June 3, which is announced as “the last Performance of Mr. Handel’s during his Stay in this Kingdom.” In this second Messiah, which is for Handel’s private financial benefit, Cibber reprises her role from the first performance, although details of other performers are not recorded.

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