Hall: Concert Hall
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The oratorio which became a veritable emblem of the genre was premiered on 13th April 1742 at Neale’s Music Hall in Dublin by a small orchestra and a 32-strong choir. Messiah was originally written as a modest work that matched the limited performance forces available in Dublin, much different from the splendour of the great London oratorios. Paradoxically, this self‑ limitation has proved to be the work’s strength rather than its weakness, since it made possible an unusual condensation of expressive and communicative qualities. Also unconventional is the libretto by Charles Jennens, which consists entirely of direct Biblical quotations (the standard convention was then to use paraphrases of the Bible). These quotations make up the story of Salvation told not directly through Gospel accounts, but first and foremost through the prophetic visions of the Old Testament and commentaries from the Apostolic Letters. The London premiere took place a year later and (unbelievable as it may seem) met at first with a rather indifferent reception. The press was unfavourable to Handel and criticised the use of Biblical lines in a work meant for the theatre, which was seen as secular entertainment. The title Messiah could not be printed on the posters, since it was argued that it is not fitting to use the name of the Saviour in this manner. For this reason, the piece was announced simply as A New Sacred Oratorio, and it was only in 1749 that the title An Oratorio Called Messiah was used. It was also at that time, in the late 1740s, that the ungrateful Londoners eventually came to appreciate Handel’s masterpiece, which with every new performance won more and more acclaim. Its special status is evident in the fact that it was the first oratorio allowed for use in the church, while previously such compositions had only been presented in the theatres and in concert halls. The first church to stage Messiah was the chapel of the Foundling Hospital in London, where the composer directed this work every year from 1750 onward. The whole considerable revenue from these incredibly successful concerts went to the support of this institution for foundling children.