1 Messiah (HWV 56)
Composed by George Frideric Handel
Handel's most famous and most often performed work is the oratorio Messiah, composed in 1741 and first performed in Dublin in 1742. Many individual numbers within the work have become independently familiar.
As it comes to us in the twenty-first century, Messiah is unusual in several respects. Its text suggest that it is a sacred work, but it has enjoyed a substantial life as concert fare. A north German in the service of the British crown, Handel's oratorios were symbols of the (protestant) Church of England and its stature in British society. Dublin, which we know today as the capital of Eire (Ireland), was heavily dominated in Handel's time by English gentlemen.
1.1 The Messiah Phenomenon
Because of the immediate popularity of individual choral and vocal numbers in Messiah, the work was rapidly circulated and adapted to varying circumstances. The rise of choral societies in the third quarter of the century had a symbiotic relationship with Handel's masterpiece. The more the work was performed, the greater the number of groups performing it. Inevitably, each new venue created its own opportunities and limitations. Soloists and sometimes keys of particular pieces could be altered. Orchestration accommodated the resources available. On the whole, the size both increased.
These trends continued in the nineteenth century such that by the time of the Crystal Palace Exposition (in London in xx) the proportions reached what seems to have been their maximum extent: xx.
Two of the most durable milestones of eighteenth-century dissemination were the Foundling Hospital parts (xx) and the Samuel Arnold edition (178xx).
1.1.1 The Foundling Hospital Parts
London's Foundling Hospital, established on Bloomsbury Fields in 1739, mirrored in its aims the well established institutions for orphans in Italy and France. The famous of these was the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, where all the orphans were female and where a select group reached the stature of musical professionals under the tuition of such maestri as Antonio Vivaldi.
Such institutions fostered strong musical allegiances because the noble families who supported them believed that music bettered the soul. They cherished music made well by children. The Foundling Hospital's benefactors include such noted painters as Sir Joshua Reynolds, xx Gainsborough, and Handel himself. The composer provided an organ and gave benefit performances at the Hospital. At his death, a valuable set of performance parts fell became the possession of the institution. Today the park known as "Coram's Fields" marks the spot where the original Hospital stood.