Handel’s Messiah – Background Information for Set Work

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Handel’s Messiah – Background information for set work

George Frederic Handel, considered one of the greatest composers of the baroque period, he was born in Halle, Germany on February. 23, 1685. He died in London on April. 14, 1759, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Handel is best known for his English Oratorios, particularly the Messiah. Handel was distinguished for his musical ability from his earliest years, was sent to Berlin to study when he was 14, began his musical career as a performer at Hamburg in 1703 and produced his first opera in 1704. He spent six years in Italy and cam, on invitation, to England in 1710, where he lived for almost 50 years. In England Handel continued to compose in the Italian style, but also absorbed the characteristics of English music, especially English coral music.

Henry Purcell was a classical composer and musicians and was one of the leading musicians of the Baroque Period. Henry Purcell was born in London September. 12 1659 and died in 1695. Henrys father was a gentleman of the chapel-royal, and sang at the coronation of King Charles II of England. Purcell was often considered England's finest native composer, Purcell combined a great gift for lyrical melody with harmonic invention and mastery of counterpoint. He sang in the choir of the Chapel Royal until 1673 and became organist there in 1682. In 1677 he was appointed composer for the king's band, and from 1679 until his death he was organist at Westminster Abbey. 

Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, Italy, on March 4, 1678 and died July 26, 1741, Vienna, Austria. Vivaldi had a great influence on the Baroque Period, Vivaldi was very productive in vocal and instrumental music, sacred and secular (nonreligious). According to the latest research, he composed over seven hundred pieces—ranging from sonatas (instrumental compositions usually with three or four movements) and operas (musical dramas consisting of vocal and instrumental pieces) to concertos (musical compositions for one or two vocal performers set against a full orchestra). In his instrumental works he naturally favored the violin. He wrote the majority of his sonatas for one or two violins and thorough-bass.

The meaning of the following terms:
ORATORIO: Religious version of an opera.
RECITATIVE: A cross between talking and singing. Used to get the words across with the minimal amount of music. Used like narrators part. ARIA: Song for a soloist in an opera or oratorio. Could be Soprano, Alto, Tenor or Bass. CHORUS: A large group of singers in an opera or oratorio, usually performing several parts. Th chorus can be used to sum up the story so far. LIBRETTO: The text or words of a musical.

In the 1730’s, peoples tastes started to change so Handel changed to writing oratorios which he made quite famous in the world of music. Handel’s oratorios are based on the English tradition of the Masque which was something between a play and an opera. Although oratorios were about stories from the Old Testa,emt Handel liked to use dramatic stories from the bible. Almong many great oratorios that Handel wrote ‘Messiah’ is his most famous one. However it is different from his other oratorios in some ways.

The words of Messiah were written by a librettist Charles Jennens. He chose several passages from the Bible and made a libretto, which he sent to Handel in 1741 (although people today often call the work “The Messiah”, both Handel and Jennens call it “Messiah” without the word “the”). Handel immediately realized that a great work of music could be made from Jennens’ libretto. He thought that Jennens was a very clever person, and in his letters to him he calls the work “Your Oratorio Messiah”. Handel sat down in the front room of his house in Brook Street, London, and wrote the whole oratorio. The libretto of the ‘messiah’ is in three main parts the- birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Part 1- includes the prophecies foretelling the coming of the Messiah....
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