Handel’s Messiah is the most performed choral work of all time, and one of the most consistently performed pieces of music, period. It beats anything by Adele by a long shot.
Here are a few juicy tidbits about Messiah and its composer. I’ve taken these from a Smithsonian magazine article published for the 250th anniversary of the Handel’s death, written in 2009 by Jonathan Kandell.
*It was first performed for an Easter show in Dublin on April 13, 1742.
*The music hall attendance was a record 700. Ladies had been asked ahead of time to wear dresses “without hoops,” so there would be more room for all.
*Handel was a star attraction, but scandal helped ticket sales as well–the contralto for the first Messiah, Susannah Cibber, was in the midst of a nasty public divorce.
*Handel turned to oratorio because it was less costly to produce than opera, and he could use local singers. Foreign opera stars had a reputation for violent tempers. Two leading sopranos came to blows on stage in one performance, as it was reported at the time “Shame that two such well-bred ladies should call [each other] Bitch and Whore, should scold and fight.”
*Handel never married, and was known for fits of rage. He fought a duel with a fellow composer-musician. He called one soprano a “she-devil” and threatened to throw her out a window.
*Handel grew obese, paying “more attention to [food] than is becoming to any man,” his earliest biographer wrote.
*Handel became rich, and gave much of his money to orphans, retired musicians, and the sick. Parts of the proceeds to the first Messiah were donated to a debtors’ prison and a Dublin hospital.
*Handel wrote Messiah in an astounding three-to-four-week period in August and September 1741.
*Dublin was one of the most prosperous and fastest-growing cities in Europe at the time of the premiere. Opening Messiah there was like giving it a pre-Broadway tryout outside of New York City.
*Mozart said, “Handel knows better than any of us what will make an effect. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt.”