Mayfield Festival Choir conducted by Jeremy Summerly with the Royal Academy Consort and soloists from the Royal Academy of Music.
There are few pieces of Western art music that have been enthusiastically received at their première and remain popular almost three centuries later. But Messiah is just such a piece; indeed it has become the go-to English oratorio for choirs around the world. Yet it was the creation of a German-born composer performing to an erstwhile Irish audience. But where Messiah is thoroughly English is in its libretto. The words were specially compiled from the King James Bible by the Leicestershire landowner Charles Jennens. Handel clearly approved of the Biblical selections that Jennens made, because he composed Messiah in just three weeks. While on one level that is barely credible, it is the single most important reason that the piece maintains its edge-of-the seat excitement throughout – even Handel didn’t know what was coming next!
In its earliest incarnations, Messiah was most usually performed around Easter (the première on 13 April 1742 was during the third week after Easter). Latterly Handel’s masterpiece has become more often associated with Christmas. Either will do, because the piece has a narrative that begins with Advent and proceeds to the Resurrection.
Our performance takes place on the last Sunday of the church year, thereby acting as a resumé of what has just been, and as a foretaste of what is to come. Messiah is ultimately timeless – it is an oratorio for all seasons.