It’s that time of year again. You know. Christmas. It’s right around the corner! Being from the northern hemisphere, it’s hard for me to get into the Christmas spirit in Christchurch. BBQs and jandals and Christmas just don’t seem to mesh! But throw a little of Handel’s Messiah into the mix and, voila, Christmas spirit aplenty!
It’s ironic then, that Messiah was orginally written for Easter. The libretto (drawn from the Old and New Testament) devotes more time to the Passion and resurrection of Christ than to the Christmas narrative. Since Handel’s death it’s become customary to perform Messiah during Advent rather than Lent or Easter.
So if you need a little Messiah for a Christmas pick-me-up, the library has numerous copies by a wide range of choirs from around the world. Every year I like to borrow a few versions to listen to and pick my favorite. (Not all tenor soloists are created equal!) So come in and borrow a copy or two. And then if you are so inclined, go and hear it live. I know a couple of choirs perform Messiah each year in Christchurch.
Yep it’s Messiah time again. One of the enduring musical traditions of Christmas is the performance of Handel’s Oratorio Messiah, often by an amateur or semi professional community choir. Written in 1741 it became an instant favourite in England, where over the centuries developed into massive performance featuring a hundreds of singers and musicians all blasting away in the local town hall. Then there was a counter movement back to smaller choirs and orchestras in the style that Handel would have known and written for.
In Christchurch this festive season you can experience the Messiah in fairly traditional style. On Sunday 20 December the choir and orchestra of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (Catholic Cathedral) will perform the Messiah.
There are traditions surrounding the performance. Audiences stand at the opening bars of the Hallelujah chorus , allegedly because when King George II attended a performance he was so moved by the power of the music that he rose to his feet and of course everyone had to stand as well (other reasons include his gout was giving him gyp and so on) Another traditional sight is people following the music with their own score. Singalong Messiahs are very common too and I once stumbled into a Messiah performance in Melbourne by a group of pretty non musical amateurs who had undertaken the performance as a self improvement challenge! Handel’s music is so great that it can still rise above nearly every challenge thrown against it but really – have a Christmas treat and listen to some Messiah highlights performed by good choirs and soloists. The Hallelujah Chorus ceases to be a cliche when you listen to it as a beautifully performed dramatic piece of music. It is no surprise that Handel was a prolific writer for dramatic performances of both oratorios and operas. Explore some of the other great music in the oratorio. My favourites include “The trumpet shall sound” “I know that my redeemer liveth” “For unto us a child is born” and a fabulous Amen chorus.
This year was the 25oth anniversary of Handel’s death and the library has a dvd of a special anniversary performance of Messiah by the orchestra and chorus of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, conducted by Neville Marriner and featuring Sylvia McNair, soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano ; Michael Chance, alto ; Jerry Hadley, tenor ; Robert Lloyd, bass.