The Messiah was written at great speed by Handel during the winter of 1741-2, and was received to great acclaim its first performance in Dublin in 1742. Charles Jennens compiled the text from the Bible, and the work is cast in three sections. Although a success in Dublin, the work had a less than warm welcome when it was performed in London without its title, and called ’a New Sacred Oratorio’ to avoid causing offence to the rather puritanical British public and press.This ruse failed however, and the press were hostile. Jennens and Handel also fell out, as Jennens felt that the composer hadn’t taken enough time and care over the music! This was a low point for Handel, and he seriously contemplated leaving the UK and returning to Germany. Eventually, after a few years, and after a series of performances for charitable causes, the work became a firm favourite. It has been linked ever since with the composer’s generous charitable donations to the Foundling Hospital, of which he was a director along with William Hogarth and Thomas Coram.
Messiah is the masterpiece of the English Baroque, and for 200 years has been performed by both professional and amateur choirs around the world. Handel’s gift for truly memorable tunes and (notwithstanding Jennens’s concerns) the care he took in setting the text have ensured that it has remained one of the most famous worksever composed.