Handel’s Messiah

There are very few choral singers who haven’t at one time or another sung Handel’s Messiah. Many choirs make it a regular feature of their concert programme, and it is probably the one work that people who don’t usually listen to classical music will have heard – or at least heard of. Certain choruses such as ‘Unto us a child is born’, or the Halleluja! chorus regularly get performed as part of Christmas concerts, and solos arias such as ‘And the trumpet shall sound’  for the bass, or the alto aria ‘He was despised’ (famously sung by Kathleen Ferrier), or the soprano aria ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’ are familiar to many people who haven’t heard the whole oratorio.

Handel takes as his subject Jesus as the Messiah, so unlike Bach’s Passions, which concentrate on Jesus’s persecution and death, Messiah covers a wide span from the prophecies concerning His coming and birth, to His death and resurrection and the consequences in terms of redemption for mankind.  

It is a dramatic work, but, again unlike Bach’s Passions, the soloists don’t represent any characters from the story of Jesus’s life, there is no Evangelist acting as a narrator, nor does the chorus impersonate the crowds that play such an important part in the Passions. Rather, they sing for all human beings (‘All we like sheep have gone astray’), or comment on the action. The exception is the chorus, ‘He trusted in God that he would deliver him’, where the chorus sing the taunting words taken from the gospel according to St Matthew.

Southport Bach Choir first sang Messiah in the 1966-67 season under David Bowman, the choir’s founder. Further performances were given under David Williams, who conducted the choir for 38 years. The last time the choir sang the oratorio was in the 2010-11 season, when Ian Wells was the conductor. Each conductor has his (unfortunately not often ‘her’) own approach to the music. Ian Crawford, who will be conducting on 13 December, has a keen sense of the drama of the piece; Handel was, after all, best known for his operas when he came to write Messiah.

Messiah has long been associated with raising money for charity. The first performance of the oratorio was in Ireland in 1742 and interestingly enough it was in aid of a charity. The second performance, also in Ireland, was for Handel’s benefit, but from 1750 for many years up to and beyond Handel’s death, Messiah was performed in aid of the Foundlings Hospital in Coram’s Fields, London.

Southport Bach Choir will be sharing the proceeds from the performance at Holy Trinity with Crosby Rotary Club, who have an honourable tradition of working for and giving to charities to help people in this country and abroad.