Music blog

22 March 2016

Handel's Messiah

An illustrated talk by John Butt, Musical Director of the Dunedin Consort, British Library, Saturday 14 May

Handel’s Messiah is one of the most familiar works in the choral repertory, a moving and varied celebration of Christ’s divinity using texts specially selected from the Bible. Yet its huge popularity doesn’t automatically mean that we know it as well as we think we do. Following its premiere in Dublin in 1742, Handel himself performed the piece many times in London in the 1740s and ’50s, and on each occasion made extensions, cuts and voice reassignments to suit the performing circumstances on hand, with the result that most Messiah performances we hear today are composites mixing and matching those various different versions.


Handel’s original score for the Dublin premiere of Messiah is held by the British Library, and the morning after conducting the Dunedin Consort in a performance of it at St John’s Smith Square as the opening concert of the 2016 London Festival of Baroque Music, Professor John Butt comes to the Library to give a talk on the significance of original texts, and what Handel’s manuscripts have to tell us about his oratorios. The talk – which takes place in the Foyle Suite on Saturday 14 May at 11.00am – will include a chance to view Handel scores and performance material from the British Library's collection. Tickets cost £15 and are available from the St John’s Smith Square box office.

This event forms part of the 2016 London Festival of Baroque Music, with its theme of ‘The Word’ exploring the intimate relationship between music and language. Running from 13-19 May, the Festival will also include a performance in Westminster Abbey of Handel’s other scriptural oratorio, Israel in Egypt, a staging of Monteverdi’s mini-drama Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, 17th-century Hebrew psalm-settings, song recitals by Iestyn Davies, Roberta Invernizzi and Olivia Chaney, and instrumental programmes by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and cornettist Bruce Dickey.

For more details of Festival concerts, visit




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