The Second Sunday in Advent


Out of Sion hath God appeared: in perfect beauty.
℣. Gather my saints together unto me: those that have made a covenant with me with sacrifice. Alleluia, alleluia.
℣. I was glad when they said unto me: we will go into the house of the Lord. Alleluia.

Gradual for the Second Sunday in Advent
A Manual of Catholic Devotion
The Church Union – 1969

It’s safe to say that there is no “definitive” version of Handel’s Messiah –
the composer himself tinkered with it continually after its first performance in 1742.  For those early Dublin performances he had a small orchestra comprised of strings, two trumpets, timpani and his own organ that had been shipped over from England. The women soloists were Christina Maria Avoglio and Susannah Cibber. The chorus was made up of 16 boys and 16 men from the two Dublin cathedral choirs with several of the choristers singing the alto, tenor, and bass solos.   In preparation for the Covent Garden performances in 1743 he added arias and recitatives to accommodate new singers and an expanded orchestra.  He was to made further changes in 1745 and again in 1749 – he had set the work aside in the intervening years – for  performances at Covent Garden and to please his librettist Charles Jennsens, who was less than happy with the earlier versions.  In 1750 Handel began the annual charity performances for the Foundling Hospital and rescored the work, again for different voices and a larger orchestra.  The score for these performances is favoured for many performances that are considered “authentic” today.

After Handel’s death – on April 14, 1759 eight days after he had attended Messiah at Covent Garden – performances were given in England with ever increasing forces;  a 1784 performance at Westminster Abbey had a compliment of 525 vocalists and instrumentalist.  The fad for Monster-Messiahs was to reach its zenith in an 1857 presentation at the Crystal Palace in London where a chorus 2000 strong hymned the Glory of the Lord and assured all and sundry that sheep could safely – if not softly – graze.

The Handel Festival in 1857 at the Crystal Palace in London.  An orchestra of 500 and a chorus of 2000 gave a resounding “Hallelujah”.

On the Continent the changes were more drastic – major revisions were made to the orchestration to suit the move away from the Baroque towards the Classical.  One of those re-orchestrations was a commission, in 1789,  to Wolfgang Mozart from Baron Gottfried van Swieten.  Van Seieten encouraged Mozart to look at the Baroque masters – he had a remarkable library of original Bach and Handel manuscripts – and had previously commissioned a reworking of Acis and Galatea from the composer.  Unlike the English editions Mozart’s transcription was on small scale but reflect the changes to the make up of an orchestra in the 48 years between the premiere of Handel’s oratorio and Mozart’s transcription.  The work was presented in a salon in the Palffy Palace in Vienna, the residence of Count Johann Baptist  Esterházy von Galántha.  Mozart conducted the four soloists, a choir of twelve and an orchestra which included flutes, clarinets, trombones and horns however as the salon had no organ he simply omitted Handel’s organ continuo.

He also rearranged many of the voice parts and gave several of the choral passages to the soloists.  There appears to be some difference as to if But Who Can Abide was first sung by a bass or a contralto – certainly by the time it reached London the aria was sung by Mrs Cibber, the contralto who had also sung at those first Irish performances.  Mozart assigns it to the bass soloist and the first stanza of  He Shall Purify is given the the soloists as a quartet that is taken up by the chorus.

Malachi 3:2
But who can endure (abide) the day of His coming?
And who can stand when He appears?
For He is like a refiner’s fire
(And like launderers’ soap).

Malachi 3:3
(He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver;)
He will purify the sons of Levi,
(And purge them as gold and silver,)
That they may offer to the Lord
An offering in righteousness.

Mozart was not to be the last composer/arranger to adapt Handel’s work; from the romantic to the grandiose to even to the jazz Messiah has been transcribed to fit the temper of the times.

On this day in 1897: London becomes the world’s first city to host licensed taxicabs.

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

5 thoughts on “The Second Sunday in Advent”

  1. And there was a wonderful rap version of Handel’s Messiah released about 20-25 years ago too! Did you enjoy Friday night’s performance, Mr Chorister? I enjoyed the one here in The Chuk. All the young Canadian soloists were marvelous and the choir was outstanding.

    1. Once again it was a wonderful experience – again I was struck by the genius and beauty of it all. First the King James text (proof that a committee can create a thing of beauty) then Jennens ability to take the text and turn it into a message of Christian conviction and finally Handel setting to music that has seldom been equalled. Felt absolutely elated afterwards.

  2. Catching up on ‘my’ blogs this afternoon, and especially enjoying these posts! Thanks (as if they were just for my pleasure…) !

  3. I have heard Mr. Handel’s Messiah countless times but they all seem alike. I will have to pay more attention to any nuances that may arise.

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