The First Sunday in Advent


Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord thy power, and come; that we may be found worthy to be rescued by thy protection from the threatening dangers of our sins, and to be set free by thy deliverance.

Collect for the First Sunday in Advent
Sarum Missal – 1911 Translation
F. E. Warren

The Collects for the season of Advent in the Sarum Rite all begin with the request – almost demand? –  that the Lord “stir up” or “excite” both Himself and his people in anticipation of the arrival of the Messiah.

In his text for Part I of Messiah Charles Jennens reaches back to the prophets of the Old Testament to the exhortations of Isaiah, Haggai, and Malachi as they stirred up the people of Israel with news of the advent of the Promised One.  And Handel matched the words with music meant to excite and move as the great event is foretold.

And I know of no more exciting, or stirring, a beginning to a Messiah than the great tenor Jon Vickers trumpeting the words of Isaiah 40: 1-4 in the 1959 recording conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.  Nor the mighty Huddersfield Choral Society hymning the glory of the Lord in Eugene Goossen’s reorchestration in which  ” ……. Handel’s music glowed, boomed and tinkled unprecedentedly” according to Beecham’s biographer Charles Reid.

Isaiah 40: Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned:( for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.)
3 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.

4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

5 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.

The Goossen’s reorchestration was only heard in a single performance  at the Lucerne Festival in 1959 and recorded that same year.  After Sir Thomas’s death Lady Beecham discouraged performances and a dispute arose between her and the Goossen’s estate on the provenance and ownership of the score.  It was heard again at a Proms performance in 1999 and at that time the Telegraph published an extensive piece on the ups and downs of this gloriously Edwardian sounding arrangements.

I have to admit that the RCA recording is one of my favourites amongst the several Messiahs I have at hand.  Though it has been criticized I think Goossen’s himself had the best rebuttal when he was challenged on his use of cymbals in the Hallelujah Chorus:

“And why not?” he explained in an interview for Records and Recordings in April 1960: “Aren’t we exhorted in the Bible to ‘praise the Lord with the sound of cymbals’?”

 On this day in 1781: The crew of the British slave ship Zong murders 133 Africans by dumping them into the sea to claim insurance.

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

3 thoughts on “The First Sunday in Advent”

  1. I have never heard Messiah all the way through….Your pieces added here are beautiful. But, what struck me maybe even more was your historical On This Day quote. Humans.

  2. Now this is being a bit swanky and might make you green – but a close friend is now Chaplain of King’s College Cambridge and asked us up for the Advent service, from which we’ve just returned. I have to hold the heretical view that the choir is NOT Cambridge’s best, but no matter – Bruckner, Mendelssohn and Bach provided some of the anthems, and that sensation of finding perhaps the UK’s most beautiful building – well, at least one that’s all of a piece, That Chapel – plunged into candlelight and the choir moving from west to east and a bit to the south and north was really something.

    Cambridge always casts its magic in all weathers. Made us really appreciate what a dark time of year it is, into which the light of the world needs to come in one way or another.

    Might even catch a Messiah in December – our brightest young soprano, Louise Alder, is singing in one soon.

    1. Why of course I’m green with envy – and if it were anyone other than you and J I’d be calling you more than swank. However since it is you two I’ll just wallow in the thought and wish I had been there to enjoy it too.

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