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Handel’s Messiah: Tudor Choir and Seattle Baroque Orchestra

November 25, 2009


The manuscript of the "Hallelujah" chorus Photo by Joan Patrick

The Tudor Choir and Seattle Baroque Orchestra

at Town Hall, 8th & Seneca, Seattle

Saturday December 12 at 7:30pm and Sunday December 13 at 2pm

“Our” Messiah

Scholars are still arguing about whether the April 1742 premiere of Messiah was a hit or a flop; Dublin was a long way from London, and after 28 years in the snakepit of commercial opera there, Handel had collected a lot of enemies ready to dish him given the slightest opportunity.

What is not in any doubt is that long before Handel died in 1759, Messiah had become his best-known work. By the 19th century it had become much more: one of the central cultural artifacts of the composer’s adopted homeland, along with steak and kidney pudding, afternoon tea, and Westminster Abbey.

By 1885, when George Bernard Shaw began his career as a music critic, bloated ceremonial performances with amateur choruses numbering in the thousands had become routine and it was as compulsory for the audience to stand for the “Hallelujah” chorus as for “God Save the Queen.”

Such performances were still routine in the U.S. as well as in England in the mid-20th century and haven’t entirely vanished today. But little by little the ideals of the “early-music movement” began to penetrate even the Messiah industry. In 1985, musicologist Joshua Rifkin was booed by his colleagues when he dared suggest that Bach’s choral works should probably be performed with just one singer per part, but his ideas have percolated throughout the world of music. No one suggests that Handel’s oratorio choruses should be sung by a quartet; Shaw asked that Parliament should pass a law against using more than 80 singers, but his joking proposal is much closer to the norm today than 800.

With smaller choral forces came the possibility of using smaller orchestral forces as well, and early-music practitioners were not slow to realize that the growing popularity of the small-is-beautiful aesthetic offered them a way to open their appeal to mainstream musical audiences. The Tudor Choir and Seattle Baroque Orchestra first teamed up for an annual authentic Baroque Messiah in 1996; at present it’s the only opportunity to experience the work at full length (most performances concentrate on the first, “Christmas” section and trim more or less heavily from parts II and III.) But when it comes down to basics, authenticity and completeness are secondary. Almost from its first performances, Messiah has occupied a special place in the Western musical repertory. Whether Handel saw it so or not, it still functions as a celebration of communal spirit as well as dramatic, tuneful, moving expression of religious faith. The early-music community needs its symbolic centerpieces as much as any other community, and here’s our own chance to celebrate: the season and ourselves.  – Roger Downey

One Comment leave one →
  1. kathy english permalink
    December 12, 2009 6:16 PM

    What we miss by kicking God out of schools, government and social gatherings is the spirit of love. He is the true God of inner peace and love for each person who accepts His love.
    I’m so glad to see music productions in Seattle that were written about and for Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, honor and dominion forever.

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