Handel's Messiah - the advent calendar

By Katrine Nyland Sorensen

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A podcast series about the people, the places, the music, the drama and the gossip that is connected to the maiden performance of Handel's Messiah in Dublin in 1742. www.nylandkommunikation.dk Danish version www.handelmessiah.dk

Episode Date
#24 Handel's Messiah
373
'Amen': When Susannah Cibber had sung her aria “He was despised” at the premiere of Messiah, Dr. Patrick Delany was so deeply moved that he spontaneously exclaimed: "Woman, for this, be all thy sins forgiven." On 13 August 1742 Faulkner’s Dublin Journal could inform its readers that ‘the celebrated Mr Handel, so famous for his excellent compositions and fine performance, with which he has entertained this city in the most pleasant way, has now travelled back to England’.

For a long time Handel was planning to return to the city that had restored his faith in his own excellence as a composer AND had improved his financial situation quite substantially. However, he did never return.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Mar 11, 2019
#23 Handel's Messiah
311
'The finest Composition of Music that was ever heard': Following the reactions of the only full rehearsal of Messiah on the 9th of April, the expectations were soaring. The date of the premiere had to be changed to the 13th of April. There was no doubt, Dublin high society didn’t want to miss such an important event. Faulkner’s Dublin Journal even had to print this request: “Many Ladies and Gentlemen who are well-wishers to this Noble and Grand Charity, for which this Oratorio was composed, request it as a Favour, that the Ladies who honour this performance with their Presence, would be pleased to come without Hoops, as it will greatly increase the Charity, by making Room for more company.”
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Mar 11, 2019
#22 Handel's Messiah
338
Grand Messiah: Many people will think that the very first Messiah doesn't sound "right" as the oratorio has since come to be associated with gigantic performances. In the British Victorian era in particular Messiah could not get too big. In June 1859 nearly 82,000 people would have listened to 2,765 choir singers and 460 musicians performing Messiah. But as George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1891, As he wrote: ''IF I were a member of the House of Commons,'' George Bernard Shaw wrote, ''I would propose a law making it a capital offense to perform an oratorio by Handel with more than 80 performers in the chorus and orchestra.''
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Feb 23, 2019
#21 Handel's Messiah
353
Little Messiah: Naturally, we do not know how the very first performance of Messiah sounded. Particularly because Handel in his own life-time managed to make numerous changes in connection with later performances, so that there are now at least ten different versions from Handel’s own time. But one thing is for certain. Messiah sounded very different than in the later versions that had hundreds of musicians and hundreds of choir singers.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Feb 23, 2019
#20 Handel's Messiah
435
Mrs. Delaney, the good friend: Another woman who played an important role in Handel’s life was Mary Delaney or Mary Pendarves. The reason for calling attention to her in this advent calendar is that she had been trying to convince Handel for a long time that if he would only go to Dublin, everything was going to be alright. And she spoke from experience. For both Handel, Cibber and Mary Pendarves Dublin became the city of fresh starts.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Feb 20, 2019
#19 Handel's Messiah
439
Recipe for ragout with poor Irish children: The mighty dean and writer, Jonathan Swift was close to putting a stop to the premiere of Messiah. Under no circumstances would he let his choir singers perform in a ‘fiddle players’ club in Fishamble Street’. One would have thought that Jonathan Swift in particular would appreciate a concert that was to raise money for the release of imprisoned debtors who were starving. Because Jonathan Swift himself had previously highlighted the shocking poverty in which the majority of Catholics in the country were living with his pamflet, ‘A Modest Proposal For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or the Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.´
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Feb 20, 2019
#18 Handel's Messiah
346
Troubles ahead for mr Handel! It seemed that Handel was holding back on announcing his plans to present his big, new oratorio Messiah while in Dublin. This is no doubt because he wanted to make sure that he had the right musicians and singers for the premiere. He could now be sure of the musicians. Matthew Dubourg had gathered the best musicians in the city for Handel. Handel also had the soloists under control. But the choir singers? This turned out to be far more complicated than Handel had probably imagined. And it had nothing to do with the fact that the choir singers, as we have heard in previous episodes, would often get into drunken fights. Enter the great Mr Jonathan Swift.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Feb 20, 2019
#17 Handel's Messiah
417
Susannah Cibber arrives in Dublin, and her performance is a big disaster - but then the viceroy asserts himself! When exactly Handel and Cibber first meet in Dublin, and at what point Handel decides to let her sing one of the most important parts of Messiah is unknown. Susannah Cibber had had singing parts since the beginning of her career, but she became famous for her acting. Her voice was described as ‘sweet’ and ‘exceptionally expressive’. However, it was untrained. And what was worse was that she could not read music. Even though Handel was known for not accepting any singers who were not able to sight-read, he made an exception for Susannah Cibber. Hour by hour, day by day he would go through the oratorio with Susannah Cibber until, finally, she knew her part by heart.
Jan 09, 2019
#16 Handel's Messiah 16
439
Today’s episode of the advent calendar is not for those faint of heart as it contains both love-making scenes, a kidnapping and hostage-taking. On 5 December 1738 Theophilus Cibber sued William Sloper for having ‘molested, robbed and had sexual intercourse with the plaintiff’s wife’. Theophilus wanted 5,000 pounds in compensation. Because the case involved such a famous actor, the judge ruled that no minutes would be taken during the trial. However, one clerk thought that the case contained so many juicy and sensational details that it would be a pity if the rest of London missed out on them. So he took his own notes. The judge, however, could not really picture Theophilus Cibber as an innocent, deceived husband, so to begin with William Sloper only had to pay Theophilus Cibber 10 pounds for having run off with his wife.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Jan 09, 2019
#15 Handel's Messiah
474
She was the star of the first performance of Messiah in Dublin. In the years leading up to this Susannah Cibber had had a tough time.
It was nothing short of a sensation when the 17-year-old craftsman’s daughter, Susannah Cibber, quickly became one of the most fêted actresses and singers in London. She married actor and dramatist Theophilus Cibber, who soon turned out to be both malicious, violent, mendacious and manipulative. He frivolously spent his wife’s money. In return he gave her sexually transmitted diseases. When she tried to hide money from him, he knocked the door down to her dressing room at the theatre and stole all of her jewellery and dresses, which he then proceeded to sell. In 1738 things really spiralled out of control. Because if Theophilus could not have his wife’s money – then he could at least damage her good reputation with a sex scandal. So that’s what he did. And we will hear a lot more about that tomorrow!
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 27, 2018
#14 Handel's Messiah
318
‘The tenor voice that gives me the greatest satisfaction’ were Handel’s words about John Church, who later appeared in Messiah. However, even though John, who was such a fantastic singer, both had the surname Church and was a church singer he was always getting into trouble. However, the most fêted musicians would often be trouble. They were more or less constantly drunk. They would often fight – also during services.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 27, 2018
#13 Handel's Messiah
283
Handel was soon so busy in Dublin that he could not keep up. Smock Alley Theatre further down Fishamble Street had to cancel performances because Handel monopolised the best musicians in the city. They even had to turn Fishamble Street into a one-way street when Handel was giving concerts because of the ensuing traffic congestion. Thus sedan chairs could no longer just be parked outside Mr Neal’s Great Musick Hall while the noble guests were enjoying the strains of Handel’s music. Handel was a success – and he had not even started introducing his audience to his new compositions yet. So far they had only been listening to the works they already knew.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 13, 2018
#12 Handel's Messiah
336
It has been reported that Handel hardly ate anything during the 24 days it took him to write the music for Messiah. How the food which the waiter brought the busy composer remained untouched. How tears smeared the notes. How his trembling fingers made the ink run, and how in the end he exclaimed, ‘I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself’. It would be amazing if this was true – but it isn’t …
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 13, 2018
#11 Handel's Messiah
448
The Irish State Musick was the permanent ensemble at the court at Dublin Castle. They were primarily paid in beer and had to take on extra work as waiters in order to make a living. The violinists also had to accept that the trumpeters were paid more because they had a higher risk of dying while on duty. In this episode you will also get an explanation as to why you will not be hearing one single note of Irish traditional music in this advent calendar.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 11, 2018
#10 Handel's Messiah
327
On 14 December Handel started selling tickets for his concerts from his own living room. Dublin was the perfect size for successful benefit concerts. It was big enough and wealthy enough for it to have an audience who would support the many worthy causes – AND it was small enough to ensure that it would be noticed if any of the nobility failed to attend a benefit concert. The numerous benefit concerts around Dublin were taken very seriously. When the annual benefit concert for Mercer’s Hospital was held the Chief Justice made sure that there were no court cases after 12 o’clock so that all of the solicitors and lawyers in the city could attend the concert.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 11, 2018
#9 Handel's Messiah
389
The Charitable Musical Society was quite a unique musical society. Even though there were many similar societies in Dublin in the 1740s this society stood out because of its many activities. Their primary aim was to raise money to release imprisoned debtors. Furthermore their members were the driving force behind bringing Handel to Dublin – and they were also responsible for building the biggest music hall in Ireland. Finally it stood apart from the other musical societies in that they insisted that there be room for both the high nobility with long titles as well as humble craftsmen – and the musical society had no problems letting Catholics join either, which was quite sensational at the time.
Interview with Adrian Le Harival, curator at the National Irish Gallery
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 11, 2018
#8 Handel's Messiah
313
Whereas it is a well-known part of musical history that Messiah premiered in Dublin’s new leading music hall in Fishamble Street as a benefit concert arranged by a.o. the Charitable Musical Society for the Release of Imprisoned Debtors, the gravity of the situation in Ireland in 1741 is a less well-known part of history. A musical society whose purpose is to pay for the release of imprisoned debtors may at first sound sweet and cheerful. However, that was far from the case. Today’s episode is not so much about Handel, but more about the money being raised through the performance of Messiah and the people this money was intended for.
Dec 08, 2018
#7 Handel's Messiah
280
Handel arrives in Ireland on 18 November and is welcomed with open arms. Where life seemed light, cheerful, elegant and fashionable when the aristocracy were enjoying themselves in the new music hall in Fishamble Street, then life was looking considerably different to the majority of the inhabitants in Dublin. There was a particular reason that hospitals for poor people and musical charities for imprisoned debtors were in such dire need of raising as much money as possible. Because in 1741 there was a famine in Ireland, and throngs of famished people from the countryside would go to Dublin in the search of food.
Dec 07, 2018
#6 Handel's Messiah
298
Due to bad weather conditions Handel’s trip from Parkgate to Dublin by boat is delayed for several days. He spends his time gathering a choir to practise Messiah. The choir consists of the best choir singers from the cathedral in Chester - AND the local printer, Janson, who has a beautiful bass voice. However, Handel is not overly impressed by Janson’s skills to say the least ...
Dec 06, 2018
#5 Handel's Messiah
343
When Handel met Matthew Dubourg, who would later become Master of the Music at the court in Dublin, he was a little boy playing the violin standing on a stool. When the audience clapped afterwards, little Matthew Dubourg became so startled that he fell off the stool. Dubourg would later save Handel’s career. In this episode we will be joined by musician and conductor Peter Whelan, who will tell us about his latest discoveries about the relationship between Handel and Dubourg.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 05, 2018
#4 Handel's Messiah
390
Handel composed the music for Messiah in 24 days, and the librettist, Charles Jennens, was furious that Handel had not spent more time on the music seeing as it was such an important piece of work meant to inspire people to live a god-fearing life. In a letter to a friend some years later, when Jennens and Handel had once again become friends, Jennens described his relationship with Handel thus: ‘I must take him as I find him and make the best use I can of him”.
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 05, 2018
#3 Handel's Messiah
396
No Messiah without Charles Jennens! Because creating this holy oratorio was his idea. It was he who wrote the libretto based on the Bible. However, Charles Jennens had no interest in getting his name mentioned. He never asked to be paid for his work either. Because Charles Jennens had much more important things on his mind!
Music: Dunedin Consort ‘Handel’s Original Dublin Version 1742’
Dec 05, 2018
#2 Handel's Messiah
387
In the second episode we will hear about Handel nearly being ruined by pretentious opera divas and opera productions that were overly expensive. We will also hear how the opera audience at the time would both drink, talk and play cards during the performances - and how a furious audience once nearly took Covent Garden apart because they wanted the audience to pay full price for their tickets. In other words Handel had several reasons for going to Dublin.
Dec 02, 2018
#1 Handel's Messiah
432
In the first episode we are going down Fishamble Street, one of the oldest streets in Dublin. It was in the exclusive Musick Hall in this street that Handel’s Messiah was first performed on 13 April 1742. Once upon a time Fishamble Street was one of Dublin’s most unsanitary streets. It later became one of the most fashionable streets in Dublin. Today it is rather dull. However, it is a good starting point for the many stories about Handel’s time in Dublin.
Dec 02, 2018