The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Ever wonder how Georg Friedrich Handel’s Messiah would have sounded when it was first performed? I did, especially after listening to the 500-voice Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” and thinking how majestic and overwhelming that would have been back in 1742. All that, of course, was thinking that every performance included a huge orchestra and chorus – the bigger, the better.
That's not the way it really happened, or course, and Apollo's Fire's version is bringing this most performed musical work of its kind closer to it origins for the area. This Baroque orchestra uses period instruments. Musically we can get the flavor of how Handel's early audiences heard it.
Jeannette Sorrell, artistic director of Apollo’s Fire, a Knight Arts grantee, had also done research on the work. She has written that Handel presented the work in many ways – changing the number of soloists, and even arranging a solo work as a duet. But not, she has said, the way we are most familiar – with a large chorus and orchestra.
The chorus usually numbered in the twenties, she has commented, as Apollo’s Fire will present it. The orchestra is smaller and represents Handel’s frequent use of winds as well as strings and infrequent trumpets. The singers are gifted as dramatic, theatrical singers rather as well as technical singers. As in Handel’s day, the performance will be more intimate, allowing for the performers to draw in the audience to nuance of feelings and import of text.
Handel apparently wrote Messiah in a total of 24 days. (My church choir has been working on perfecting parts of it for years now and had been even before I ever joined the chorus.) Now there’s a gifted composer.
However, Handel had the advantage of librettist Charles Jennens, it has been said, who conceived of the idea to pen the mighty work not as an ordinary oratorio (or a character-based religious narrative) but as a spiritual journey through the Old and New Testaments contemplating the advent and arrival of a messiah.
That apparently left Handel with the opportunity to plumb the emotional range of the story – the worry and waiting, the despair of many false claimants, and the agony and joy of the mysterious and unexpected way it all came about through the birth, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Apollo’s Fire will present Handel’s “Messiah” at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, December 17, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1250 W. Exchange St., Akron; 216-320-0012; www.apollosfire.org. Tickets range from $26-$50.