5 Things You Didn’t Know About Handel’s Messiah

With Queensland Choir set to perform Handel’s Messiah at the Brisbane City Hall on December 1st 2019, it would be good to learn more about this classic choral masterpiece.

Handel’s famous oratorio—The Messiah, as performed by the Queensland Choir as “Brisbane Sings Messiah”, has become a Christmas tradition for many audience members as it is one of the choir’s signature and most celebrated events.

Photo credit: The Queensland Choir/ Facebook

With more than 150 choristers performing together with the thrilling accompaniment of an orchestra, George Frederic Handel’s glorious oratorio will surely offer each guest a magnificent combination of both theatrical effect and spiritual reflection all in one performance.

Whether or not you’re familiar with Handel’s choral masterpiece, here is a list of things you might not know about Handel’s Messiah:

1 . Composition of The Messiah only took 24 days to finish

Handel at 56 was able to compose The Messiah in a very short span of time—24 days to be exact—from 22 August 1741 until 14 September 1741.  It was a phenomenal task for him to finish an oratorio in a couple of weeks as it was made up of 53 movements in 3 parts.

Tradition has it that Handel excluded himself for much of that time. He often refused to eat, drink or sleep when urged to do so by his servants. Handel also believed that God was telling him what to write and that he must copy it immediately upon hearing it.

George Frederic Handel
Photo credit: CCO Public Domain/ Dcoetzee/ Wikimedia Commons

2 . The Messiah wasn’t originally intended for Christmas

The Messiah had its premiere in Dublin in 1742 during Easter time and not on Christmas. This work was originally intended for Lent, but it was the Victorians who decided to move it to Christmas in order to revive people’s interest in what was then a neglected holiday.

3 . The Messiah raised enough money to free men from prison

Apart from The Messiah’s first performance during Easter time in Dublin in 1742, its premiere also served as a beneficiary event for people in a debtor’s prison. With enough money raised due to its momentous premiere, a total of 142 men were released from prison.

4 . Almost all the words from The Messiah were taken from the Old Testament

Did you know that although The Messiah tells the story of Jesus, the majority of its texts were taken from the Old Testament instead of the New Testament?

Yes, it was a way for Charles Jennens, the person responsible for compiling the texts used for The Messiah, to prove that the story and life of Jesus were already prefigured even before He lived. Jennens used The Messiah as a tool in battling against the Deists who at that time denied the reality of prophecy in the Bible.

Charles Jennens
Photo credit: CCO Public Domain/ Jack Wills It/ Wikimedia Commons

5 . Tradition of standing during The Messiah’s “Hallelujah Chorus”

Ever wondered why most audiences stand whenever the Hallelujah Chorus is performed? It was because of King George II of England who spontaneously rose to his feet as he was deeply moved by emotion during this movement at The Messiah. Upon seeing the King stand, the audience immediately stood up as well.

Since then, the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus has been observed in most live performances of The Messiah.

Catch Brisbane Sings Messiah of the Queensland Choir on 1 December 2019 at 2:45 p.m. inside the Brisbane City Hall. For tickets and more details about the concert, click here.