FRI, DEC 10, 2021

George FrIderIc Handel's
Scott Anderson, Guest Conductor

Performed by ISU Concert Choir & the Camerata Singers, with the Idaho State-Civic Symphony

Join the combined talents of the Idaho State-Civic Symphony, ISU Choirs, Camerata Singers, and Guest Soloists who will take you back in time to experience the sounds of MESSIAH as Handel himself might have heard it in 1742!

Guest Vocalists:
  • Rachel Sparrow, Soprano
  • Kiya Fife, Mezzo Soprano
  • Geoffrey Friedley, Tenor
  • Stacey Murdock, Baritone

Program Notes
  by Guest Conductor, Scott Anderson

Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was the hand-picked German-born court composer of King George II, and Handel’s operas, written in Italian, were some of the most celebrated in Europe.  By the late 1720s, however, British audiences had grown tired of operas sung in German or Italian and preferred easily understood plots that were entertaining and reasonably priced.  John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), a bawdy musical drama generally agreed to be the first ever musical, became the rage in London.  Gay combined comedy and political satire in prose interspersed with song set to contemporary and traditional English, Irish, Scottish, and French tunes.  As a result, Handel’s expensive operative productions were losing money, causing the composer to go into debt and compose tirelessly to keep his creditors from foreclosing on his assets.

Facing possible financial ruin, Handel turned to a different art form – the oratorio - intended for a different audience, the London middle class. Oratorio texts were in English and drew on stories mainly from the Old Testament, with which the middle-class audience would be familiar. The inspiration for Messiah came from a scholar and editor named Charles Jennens, a devout and evangelical Christian deeply concerned with the rising influence of deism and other strains of Enlightenment thought that he and others regarded as irreligious. Drawing on source material in the King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, Jennens compiled and edited a concise distillation of Christian doctrine, from Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah’s coming through the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and then to the promised Second Coming and Day of Judgment. Jennens took his libretto to his friend, George Frideric Handel, and proposed that it form the basis of an oratorio expressly intended for performance in a secular setting during the week immediately preceding Easter. “Messiah would be directed at people who had come to a theater rather than a church during Passion Week,” according to the Cambridge Handel scholar, Ruth Smith, “to remind them of their supposed faith and their possible fate.”  This didactic mission may have inspired Jennens to write Messiah, but it is fair to say that George Frideric Handel's transcendent music is what made the work so timeless and inspirational.  As Ludwig van Beethoven said of Handel: “He is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb.”

Because of the lackluster London reception of his most recent Italian operas, Handel decided to debut Messiah in Dublin where he was under contract to stage a series of concerts in 1742. Success greeted him every step of the way. In fact, the premiere of Messiah was so highly anticipated in that city that audience members were asked to make adjustments to their customary wardrobe in order to accommodate a larger crowd; women were requested to forgo hoops in their skirts, and men were asked to dispense with their swords. The hall had a capacity of 600, but records show that around 700 people crowded into the space for the work’s first performance.

The Irish Bishop of Elphin wrote of Handel’s performance of Messiah in Dublin, “Mr. Handel in his oratorio greatly excels all other Composers I am acquainted with, So in this famous one, called The Messiah he seems to have excell’d himself.  The whole thing is beyond anything I had a notion of till I Read and heard it.  It Seems to be a Species of Musick different from any other, and this is particularly remarkable of it.”  

Baroque instruments (strings, winds, brass, and percussion) were of a lighter construction than the modern instruments we see in today's orchestras.  The bows used by string players were lighter, shorter, flatter, and contributed to a slightly more muted sound from their instruments.  Sexty or more stringed instruments from the Baroque period (1700s) would be needed to produce the same amount of sound as 25-32 stringed instruments in a modern orchestra (2021).  In Handel's time, 20-24 singers in a mixed chorus were considered a large group; Handel employed 30-40 trained cathedral singers in his choir for the premier performance of Messiah in Dublin in 1742.  For the same performance, Handel employed a total of 30-40 (total) strings, winds, brass, and percussion players.  Since today's instruments can produce more than twice as much sound (due to increases in size and weight, heavier strings, and larger bows) as in 1741, the proportions required to approximate balances heard in Handel's day (in our time) require nearly three times more singers than instruments.  For a Messiah performance in 2021, a choir of 100 singers is easily balanced by an orchestra of approximately 35 total players using modern instruments, and the whole will achieve the sound effects Handel would expect to hear. 

 After about 1760, composers began reorchestrating Messiah to include newer instruments of their era.  Mozart reorchestrated Handel's work by adding flutes, clarinets, trombones, horns, more bassoons and oboes, and additional percussion.  In 1788 Johann Hiller presented a performance of Messiah with a choir of 260 and an orchestra of 87 strings, 10 bassoons, 11 oboes, 8 flutes, 8 horns, 4 clarinets, 4 trombones, 7 trumpets, timpani, harpsichord, and organ!   By the end of the 19th Century and into the first decades of the 20th Century, enormous choral and orchestral forces were often used to present Messiah performances in the United States, with instrumentation on a scale that Handel would have not recognized or understood.  Our ISCS orchestra will consist of 28 strings, two oboes, two trumpets, harpsichord, organ, and timpani, for a total of 35 players - and our chorus will be approximately 110 singers - a nearly perfect proportion of musical forces, according to the composer’s instructions.

In the late 1970s, a renewed effort to return to the music "performance practice" of the 17th and 18th Centuries began to develop in Europe and the United States.  Over the past few decades, conductors, orchestras, choruses, and soloists have made careers specializing in the performance of Baroque music, using period instruments, smaller forces, and stylistic techniques that were common practice when such music was originally composed and performed.   Tonight, our performers will essentially "go back in time", employing smaller performing forces and practices, to offer you a musical experience very similar to one that might have been heard in 1742 by Handel himself. 


Program Notes (excerpts from)                                                                                                 Craig Doolin



George Frideric Handel

Born February 23, 1685, in Halle, Germany

Died April 14, 1759, in London


This work received its premiere on April 13, 1742, at the Fishamble Street Music Hall in Dublin, Ireland.  Its original scoring was for two oboes, bassoon, two trumpets, timpani, strings, and basso continuo. Other composers have completed additional orchestrations, most notably the one by Mozart.   Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass soloists are featured.

Handel wrote Messiah between August 22 and September 12, 1741 – nearly two and a half hours of inspired music of the highest craftsmanship completed in an astounding spurt of creativity lasting a mere three weeks!  Its premiere took place at the Fishamble Street Music Hall in Dublin at noon on April 13, 1742.  As British historian Richard Luckett notes, “there has never been a year since 1742 in which Messiah has not been performed.”  Known for his generosity to charitable causes, especially after his stroke, Handel donated profits from the premiere to the relief of jailed prisoners and the support of Mercer’s Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary, both in Dublin.  An open rehearsal, for profit, was held four days before the premiere and was fraught with difficulties.  Handel made no fewer than nine corrections to his score, ranging from text changes to complete recomposition of entire numbers.  The alto soloist, actress Susannah Cibber, the younger sister of composer Thomas Arne, required extensive coaching, taking up a large portion of the rehearsal.  The instruction must have been beneficial, as period accounts of the premiere singled out the effectiveness of her solos.  The first performance, before a crowd of about seven hundred, was a decided success, as one Dublin newspaper stated:


“Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crouded [sic] audience.  The Sublime, the Grand and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick [sic] and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.”


Messiah does not follow a narrative throughout – opting instead for textual reflections of the birth of Jesus (Part I), the Resurrection and the power of God (Part II), and the defeat of death through Salvation (Part III).  Consisting of fifty-three numbers, complete with glorious choruses and powerfully dramatic solos, the work fills and evening, but is only of moderate length compared to Handel’s other oratorios, most notably his final work, Jephtha, which clocks in at over three hours.  Handel’s musical technique in Messiah is undifferentiated from that of his Italian operas.  The work consists of a series of accompanied recitatives (in which the orchestra plays, as opposed to dry recitative using just the basso continuo) that present the dramatic events of the story, followed by solo airs that reflect on the action or ideas in the recitatives.  Frequent choruses serve as an elaborate method of stressing important ideas or reflections with greatest force and contrapuntal mastery.  Of particular interest to modern listeners is Handel’s extensive use of “text painting,” a technique in which textual references are reflected in the melodic line.  Of the dozens of instances in Messiah, one of the most apparent is in the Bass recitative “Thus saith the Lord,” in which the word “shake” is set to a melismatic melodic line.  The astute listener will find many instances of this technique throughout this evening’s performance.


©2021 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin

Fri. Dec 10 @ 7:30 pm


Jensen Concert Hall Reserved