Mormon Tabernacle Choir Blog

Handel’s Messiah: Mesmerizing Audiences for Nearly 300 Years

Updated March 9, 2016

Messiah is most often associated with Christmas, but it was originally an Easter offering when it debuted in the Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The oratorio tells the story of Christ’s life in three sections, from His birth to His death and eventual Resurrection.

Handel’s brilliant oratorio had a humble beginning. In 1741, swimming in debt and out of favor as a composer, Handel accepted a commission for a benefit concert in Dublin, Ireland. On August 22 the 56-year-old sequestered himself in his London home and began to compose music to biblical texts heralding the life of Jesus Christ. In just 23 days he completed a 260-page oratorio he named Messiah.

Some 40 years after Messiah’s premiere, English musicologist Charles Burney wrote, “This great work has been heard in all parts of the kingdom with increasing reverence and delight; it has fed the hungry, clothed the naked, fostered the orphan and enriched succeeding managers of the oratorios, more than any single production in this or any other country.”

The Choir is no stranger to Handel’s work. Over the years it has performed selections from and the entire Messiah multiple times. In fact, a 1959 recording of Messiah by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and Richard Condie and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was placed in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2005 because of its historical significance. It was a best-selling album and one of the most successful classical recordings of its time, setting a benchmark for classical musical recordings that remains unparalleled.

In March, 2016, the Choir’s newest recording of Handel’s oratorio will be available. This newest recording of Messiah is an edition by Mack Wilberg for large choir and orchestra which masterfully retains the Baroque aesthetics of Handel’s original masterpiece. Relying on historical research and Baroque musical performance tradition, Mack Wilberg has created a Messiah of our own time. Two versions will be available: The Complete Oratorio containing every movement of Messiah on two CDs with a bonus DVD, and Messiah Highlights containing selected choruses and solos.