1. A performance of Handel's "Messiah" lasts about 2 1/2 hours. Amazingly, Handel composed the entire oratorio in only:
c. 24 days
Written when Handel was 57 (he died at age 74), the composition of "Messiah" was a phenomenal task to complete in 24 days (some texts cite 23 days!). Tradition has it that Handel closeted himself for much of that time, often refusing to eat, drink or sleep when urged to do so by his servants. He believed that God was telling him what to write and he must copy it immediately upon hearing it.
2. Until Wagner's work in the 19th century, virtually all opera and oratorio texts were written by someone other than the composer. For "Messiah", Handel set to music the text selected by this man.
d. Charles Jennens
An English millionaire and amateur literary figure, Jennens selected Old Testament passages from Isaiah, Psalms, and Job for the libretto of "Messiah". New Testament passages were taken from Luke, I Corinthians, and the Book of Revelation. Vivaldi was another Baroque composer, Milton was a Baroque author and Moliere was a Renaissance playwright.
3. "Messiah" is presented in three parts. Part I (the Christmas portion) starts with the prophecy and coming of Christ. Part II (the Easter portion) describes the passion and death of Christ. What is the theme of Part III?
b. Promise of eternal life for believers
"Messiah" has over 50 movements. Often certain portions are selected and performed to suit the season of the liturgical year (i.e. Part I is performed at Christmas, Part II at Easter). Although the "Hallelujah Chorus" occurs well into the body of the work, it is often "lifted" from its chronological order and presented at the conclusion of an abbreviated "Messiah" performance.
4. Throughout his life, Handel refused to accept any money from the performances of "Messiah". He refused because:
c. He felt that he did not deserve it
Handel maintained that God, not Handel, wrote "Messiah". He saw himself as a mere vehicle for communication who simply wrote down what God dictated. While writing the "Hallelujah Chorus", Handel referred to the "divine host" who sang the music that he recorded on paper. Many arrangements of "Messiah" have been created through the years. One of the most famous arrangers was Mozart.
5. Although they never met, Handel and Bach are both giants of Baroque music. Handel's oratorios have more changes in texture than those of Bach and the ____________ is more prominently featured in Handelian oratorios.
Handel was a prolific composer of Baroque opera and oratorio. He owned and operated his own opera company for many years. Bach composed in all major Baroque styles except opera. There are no actors in oratorios and cambiata is a male adolescent singing voice/range. Both Handel and Bach were brilliant orchestrators.
6. Typical Baroque musical idioms are used by Handel throughout "Messiah". These include ritornello form, basso continuo, terraced dynamics and:
d. word painting
Word painting, so characteristic of Renaissance and Baroque music, enhances the text with musical treatment. In the tenor aria, "Ev'ry Valley Shall Be Exalted", a single syllable of the word "exalted" (raised up) is written with forty-six ascending notes! Crescendos/decrescendos, easily sung melodies and sonata-allegro form all belong to a description of Classical Period music, not Baroque.
7. "Messiah" is the exception to the definition of oratorio because it has no:
b. plot or characters
It is atypical of Handel's oratorios to have no plot or characters. However, oratorios by definition have no scenery, costumes or drama. Most of Handel's oratorios are based on stories from the Old Testament. Although Jennens extracted the text from the Bible, it is reflective rather than dramatic. Interestingly, oratorios were not considered church music. They were intended for performance in public theaters for paying audiences.
8. "Messiah" premiered in 1742 in the city of:
The first performance of "Messiah" was presented in Dublin on April 13, 1742, as a benefit for people in a debtors' prison. It raised enough money to free 142 men from the prison.
9. Because of the excitement surrounding the anticipated premier of "Messiah", audience members were asked for certain considerations. In order to increase the capacity of the concert hall, men were asked to leave their dress swords at home and women were asked to:
b. not wear hoop skirts
Rehearsals for the premier garnered much attention. One newspaperman wrote that "Messiah" was considered "by the greatest Judges to be the finest Composition of Musick that ever was heard." The Dublin concert hall slated for the premier held 600 people. The lack of hoop skirts and dress swords increased the capacity to 700.
10. Although the premier was very successful, "Messiah" received a poor reception in London because of religious objections to:
a. use of a sacred text in a theatre
"Messiah" did not become popular in London until a decade after its successful Dublin premier. It finally achieved popularity after being performed annually at a benefit for a London orphanage. A journalist wrote that "Messiah" "fed the hungry, clothed the naked, fostered the orphan."
11. "Messiah" is Handel's only English oratorio that uses text from:
a. The Old and New Testaments
Bunyan and Milton were both Baroque authors of religious allegories, but were never used as librettists by Handel, as far as we know!
12. In Handel's day, the orchestra and chorus for "Messiah" were significantly smaller than those with which we are used to seeing it performed today. The chorus was only 20 singers and they were:
b. all male
The treble voices in "Messiah" were sung by young boys. No women. Although Handel did write for women, the Baroque era is the golden age of the castrato singer for dramatic treble roles. Many of his other works (not "Messiah") were written for this androgynous diva.
13. In the Baroque period, sacred and secular music were very similar in style. "For Unto Us a Child is Born", the twelfth movement of "Messiah", derives much of it's melodic content from:
d. An Italian love duet by Handel
A bit disconcerting to consider, actually. As to the other answers, Purcell's work remains intact, Bach never wrote an opera and, to my knowledge, the music of "For Unto Us a Child is Born" was never used as a drinking song (unlike "The Star Spangled Banner"!).
14. Why do most audiences stand when the "Hallelujah Chorus" is performed?
b. The king stood when he heard it
Upon hearing the "Hallelujah Chorus" movement of "Messiah", allegedly King George II of England was reputedly so overcome with emotion that he spontaneously rose to his feet. When the king stands, everyone stands, so the audience immediately rose also. The tradition of standing for the chorus is still observed today in most live performances of "Messiah".
15. Although born and reared in Halle, upper Saxony, Handel is considered to be the premier composer of England. Upon his death in 1759, over 3,000 mourners attended his funeral which was held in this famous place.
b. Westminster Abbey
Ironically, Handel, whose native tongue was German, never learned to speak the English language well. Even so, he remained popular and beloved by the English people until his death. In his later years, Handel was still giving organ concerts and conducting, but he was fast losing his eyesight. Ironically, Bach suffered the same fate. Although they never met (they came close several times), both consulted the same doctor about their respective eyesight deterioration. Both underwent unsuccessful surgery by this doctor and both became blind after the surgery. Handel is buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. A statue of the composer holding the manuscript of his beloved soprano aria, "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth" marks his tomb.
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