December 6, 2018
Director of Music
Every year at Christmastime, all over the world, thousands of people flock to participate in or listen to one of countless performances of the Messiah by G.F. Handel. But how many are likely to know that Handel took only 24 days to complete this undisputed masterpiece? Or that, in Handel’s lifetime, Messiah was always performed for charity, and the composer never made a single penny from it? The oratorio had its premiere in Dublin in 1742, where the announcement was made in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal that the performance would be “For the Relief of the Prisoners in the several Gaols, and for the Support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen’s Street, and for the Charitable Infirmary on the Inns Quay . . .” All the singers and instrumentalists donated their performances.
Ticket sales were off the charts, and realizing how crowded the hall would be, the Journal advised the audience in advance that “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.” This was followed by second request, that “The Gentlemen are desired to come without their Swords.”
The debut performance was a huge success, and the rest is history. 142 debtors were released from prison, their debts having been paid through the proceeds of the concert. Thus, when the choir sang “His yoke is easy, and his burden is light,” it was much more than empty words!
Highlights from the Christmas portion of Messiah will be presented this Sunday at 4 pm as part of our Christmas in Ireland concert, along with many beautiful carols from the Emerald Isle. Plan to join in a sing-a-long of some of your favorites, along with Derry’s Sanctuary Choir, Celebration Children’s Choir, Chrysalis Youth Choir, Derry Ringers Handbell Choir, and Orchestra. Arrive early for best seats