By the spring of 1741, Georg Friderich Handel (1685 - 1759) was thinking of returning to Germany after his latest attempts at reviving Italian opera had failed. Charles Jennens, poet, librettist and friend came to the rescue with his plan for a new sacred oratorio to be performed in Holy Week, when the theatres would be closed and a financial killing assured. He had compiled his libretto from the magical words of the King James Bible of 1611.

Handel began to set Jennens' words to music on 22 August 1741. For 23 days he was so focused on his composition that a servant was seriously worried; food remained untouched, the servant adding "I've never seen him act like this before. He just stares at me and doesn't see me. He said the gates of heaven opened wide for him and God himself was there. I'm afraid he's going mad".

Handel left for Ireland early in November. The Dublin concert season was a great success and on 12th and 13th April 1742, the first performances of Messiah took place, raising £400 for charities.

Bedford Messiah Choir is proud to continue this tradition of support for a local charity, which Handel himself established in his own lifetime.

First Performances of Messiah
Messiah Performance 
under Handel's direction at the
  Foundling Hospital Chapel
on 1st May 1750 


Handel uses the operatic forms of recitatives, arias and choruses in three parts. The first part tells of the prophecies and their fulfillment in the birth of Christ and ends with His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The second tells of His passion and resurrection; the third part celebrates the Christian promise of resurrection and eternal life won for us by Christ's conquest of death.

There are no characters represented by soloists and there is no narrative. The soloist's role is of commentary and reflection on individual Christian testimony. The choruses seek to draw the listener into the experience.

Back to Top