What is Handel’s Messiah?

Messiah is the best known choral work of George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), and is the most frequently-performed and beloved oratorio in the Western choral tradition. While many consider it a Christmas piece, Messiah incorporates Bible verses that prophesy and describe the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The work is particularly well-known for its Hallelujah Chorus.

Handel began work on Messiah on August 22, 1741, using a scriptural text by Charles Jennens that drew from the King James Bible and from the version of the Psalms included with the Anglican Book Of Common Prayer. The piece was composed in only 24 days, and was completed on the 14th of September.

Messiah was first performed in Dublin, Ireland, on April 13, 1742, with Handel himself conducting. During the Hallelujah Chorus the audience (which included the King himself) was so moved that all stood spontaneously. Thus, the tradition of standing during this chorus began. The following year, the work received its premiere in England.

Handel frequently and freely used strong rhythms and sharp contrasts that were features of much of much of Western Eurpoean art music of the Baroque Period (1600 to 1750).