George Frideric (or Frederick) Handel born Georg Friedrich Händel, February 23, 1685 – April 14, 1759) was a German-born British Baroque composer who spent the bulk of his career in London, becoming well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos.
Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible, and from the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. It was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742 and received its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.
The music for Messiah was completed in 24 days of swift composition. Having received Jennens’s text some time after July 10, 1741, Handel began work on it on August 22. His records show that he had completed Part I in outline by 28 August, Part II by September 6, and Part III by September 12, followed by two days of “filling up” to produce the finished work on September 14. The autograph score’s 259 pages show some signs of haste such as blots, scratchings-out, unfilled bars and other uncorrected errors, but according to the music scholar Richard Luckett the number of errors is remarkably small in a document of this length. The original manuscript for the Messiah is now one of the chief highlights from the British Library’s music collection.
Handel wrote Messiah for modest vocal and instrumental forces, with optional settings for many of the individual numbers. In the years after his death, the work was adapted for performance on a much larger scale, with giant orchestras and choirs. In other efforts to update it, its orchestration was revised and amplified by (among others) Mozart. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the trend has been towards reproducing a greater fidelity to Handel’s original intentions, although “big Messiah” productions continue to be mounted. A near-complete version was issued on 78 rpm discs in 1928; since then the work has been recorded many times.