2009 Christmas music from Messiah

With other works by Handel - one of the Italian duets and the third harpsichord suite - and a “Come-and_Sing” Hallelujah Chorus.

Sunday 6th December 2009 at 4.30 pm
Barn Hill Methodist Church
Bridget Howarth soprano - Sally van der Sterren alto - Paul Milosavljevic tenor - Simon Nurser bass
Helen Didsbury soprano (1)
Paul Parsons harpsichord and chamber ensemble, conducted by Fergus Black

(1) in the duet ,Quel fior che all’alba ride

The choir performs Handel's Messiah, in December 2009

Poster | Programme


Quel fior che all’alba ride (July 1741) HWV 192
Duetto for two sopranos

Helen Didsbury soprano
Bridget Howarth soprano

Like its companion piece, No, di voi non vo’ fidarmi, HWV 189. this delightful Italian duetto da camera presents music that is familiar to us today from choruses in Messiah. These two duetti are the original versions: they were completed in early July of 1741, when Handel is thought to have received the libretto for Messiah, and before he began setting it to music in August. The choruses that were adapted from them are a fascinating case of self-borrowing, involving much re-composition in a different language and rescoring on a large scale.

Quel fior ch’all’alba ride
il sole poi l’uccide
e tomba ha nella sera.
È un fior la vita ancora:
L’occaso a nell’aurora
e perde in un sol dì la primavera.

The flower that smiles in the morning
is then killed by the sun
and is buried in the evening.
Life is like a flower:
Within the dawn it has its sunset
and in only one day it loses its spring.

Suite No. 3 in d minor HWV 428
from Suites de Pièces pour le Clavecin, Premier Volume (1720)

Paul Parsons harpsichord

Presto - Allegro (Fugue)
Air (with five variations)

Much of Handel’s keyboard music was occasional or improvised, so it is now lost; but soon after he settled in London, a collection called the Eight Great Suites was issued, oddly enough, with a French title - surely a clue about the influences on Handel. The Suite No 3 in D minor starts with a whirling toccata with a dotted-rhythm subject. A dotted-rhythmed allemande is followed by a more serious Italianate corrente. The next movement, an air and variations, is not found in the conventional suite. The air is richly ornamented, and the first variation is simply based on the air’s harmonic structure with added right hand semiquavers. The second variation turns this upside down, placing the chord sequence in the right hand, the semiquavers in the left. The third variation has metrical parts for treble and bass, with semiquavers in the middle part. The fourth variation puts the tune in compound metre (12/8), and the fifth and final variation, in broken chords, is the plainest but also the most energetic. Handel concludes with a final dazzling presto in 3/8.

Messiah - A Sacred Oratorio (1742)

Part I: The Birth
Scene 1: The prophecy of Salvation
Scene 2: The prophecy of the coming of the Messiah
Scene 3: Portents to the world at large
Scene 4: Prophecy of the Virgin Birth
Scene 5: The appearance of the Angel to the shepherds
Scene 6: Christ’s miracles

Handel drafted Messiah, with his usual rapidity of composition, between 22 August and 12 September 1741 and had the score ‘filled out’ by September 14. Jennens had already written the libretto with the intention “to perswade him to set another Scripture Collection....& perform it for his own Benefit in Passion Week. I hope he will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other subject”. This ambition for Messiah has been amply fulfilled, but its success in England was not immediate.

The first performance was in Dublin, where a strong and well established musical culture had tempted Handel to offer a series of subscription concerts through the late autumn and winter. He arrived in November 1741 but did not publicly rehearse Messiah until Friday 9 April 1742 in preparation for a charity performance at the Fishamble Street Musick Hall on the following Tuesday to a capacity audience, who had been asked not to wear swords or hooped dresses in order to maximize the seating. The final audience was estimated to be about 700. The performance was so successful that the work received two further performances by public demand; both for the sole benefit of Handel himself.

The first performance of Messiah in London was not until 23 March 1743, at Covent Garden, after the first performances of Samson, which had been completed later in 1742. There was some public controversy over whether a sacred oratorio should be performed in a secular theatre, but this did not prevent subsequent performances on 25 and 29 March. As Jennens noted: “notwithstanding the clamour rais’d against it, which has only occasion’d it’s being advertis’d without its Name...’Tis after all, in the main, a fine Composition.” It was performed regularly thereafter, but it was not until 1750 that Messiah reached the level of popularity that it has enjoyed since, when it was performed at The Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children - the Foundling Hospital in 1749, and again in 1750. At these later performances, almost 2,000 tickets were sold, yielding a considerable contribution to the costs of the chapel, to which Handel had already donated a new organ. He was elected a governor of the hospital in 1750, and bequeathed to it the performing rights to Messiah on his death nine years later.

From this time, his public reputation as ‘the great and good Mr Handel’ was sealed. Despite a rather unsuccessful opera season in 1749, the success of the Fireworks Music of that year, followed by the hospital performance of Messiah, established Handel finally in London society. The fortunes of his opera seasons revived and theatre performances of his sacred works were no longer considered controversial.

Messiah is organised into three parts. The first (performed today) is a joyful pastoral of the Prophecy and Incarnation, the second a sacrificial passion of the Crucifixion and Resurrection and the third a metaphysical contemplation on the Ascension and the promise of Redemption. The succinctness and coherence of the narrative progression of this account of the divine scheme owes much to Jennens’ libretto. This provided Handel with an imaginative combination of scriptural texts from both testaments of the Authorized Version (‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’, for example, combines Job with Corinthians) and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (much of the third part is based on New Testament material that is also used in the burial service). It embraces the key festivals of the Christian year, and makes performance of the work as appropriate to Christmas, the contemporary custom, as to Easter, which was the original practice. Though it lacks a plot with dramatic resolution, Messiah has a thematic unity for Christian cultures which may account in part for its continuing accessibility to wide audiences. This quality is further reinforced by the high proportion of choral to solo elements - a combination that had already worked well for Handel in L’Allegro.

As in so much of his work, and over its enormous range of musical forms, Handel’s confident interweaving of musical and narrative themes to such a dramatic climax in Messiah, again states his claim to our continuing attention and enjoyment. Neither changing tastes and practices in choral music, nor even tiresomely recurrent affectations of ennui at his alleged ubiquity or overperformance in English music, are likely to challenge the lasting value of his works and their capacity imaginatively to engage us still. To claim to be tired of Handel, surely, is to be tired of what musical experience can bring to life itself.

Paul Filmer, November 2002 (edited)
reproduced with permission

Sinfonia (Orchestra)

Recitative (Tenor)
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:1-3)

Air (Tenor)
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. (Isaiah 40:4)

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:5)

Recitative (Bass)
Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: Yet once, a little while, and I shall shake the heavens, and the earth, the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come. The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. (Haggai 2:6,7; Malachi 3:1)

Air (Alto)
But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire. (Malachi 3:2)

And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3:3)

Recitative (Alto)
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, “God with us.” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)

Air (Alto and Chorus)
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: Behold your God! Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. (Isaiah 40:9; 60:1)

Arioso (Bass)
For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 9:2,3)

Air (Bass)
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Pifa “Pastoral Symphony” (Orchestra)

Recitative (Soprano)
There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8)

Air (Soprano)
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. (Luke 2:9)

Recitative (Soprano)
And the angel said unto them: Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10,11)

Arioso (Soprano)
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: (Luke 2:13)

Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men. (Luke 2:14)

Air (Soprano)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King cometh unto thee: He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen. (Zechariah 9:9,10)

Recitative (Soprano)
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. (Isaiah 35:5,6)

Air (Soprano)
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)
Come unto Him all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye will find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28,29)

His yoke is easy and His burthen is light. (Matthew 11:30)

“Hallelujah” (from Part 2 of Messiah)
The most famous movement in Messiah is the “Hallelujah” chorus, which concludes the second of the three parts. The text is drawn from three passages in the New Testament book of Revelation:

In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. Tradition has it that King George II rose to his feet at this point. Royal protocol has always demanded that whenever the monarch stands, so does everyone in the monarch’s presence. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood too, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries. It is lost to history the exact reason why the King stood at that point, but the most popular explanations include:

from Wikipedia


Burghley Voices and Ensemble

Judy Blakeborough
Penny Cooper
Morwenna Corbett
Helen Didsbury
Kate Eglinton
Audrey Sawyer

Helen Black
Hilary Gallup
Alison Lewis
Rosamund Ochala-Greenough
Fiona Radic

Jeremy Cooper
Jonathan Jessop
Julian Kelsey
John Riley

Bartosz Drzewiecki
Mansell Duckett
Mike King
Phil McCrone

Terry Noble violin
Elizabeth Hamilton-Box violin
Daniel Leetch viola
Mike Horsfall cello
Robert Rennard trumpet
Alex Dodds trumpet
Paul Parsons harpsichord