This is not only a very funny read but also a valuable overview of Handel's
much loved choral masterpiece for it is crammed with facts. The book covers
the life of the composer and the circumstances around the composition of
Messiah, the libretto and the music; plus details about the Dublin premiere
and subsequent performances.
Here are three gems from the detail about the Dublin premiere:
"It seems that among the singers that Handel assembled for the occasion was
a printer named Janson, who had been recommended to him as a bass and a good
sight reader. But during a run-through of the chorus "And With his stripes
we are healed", Janson apparently made so many mistakes that Handel shouted
at him: "I thought you told me you could read music at sight!" -
Janson's reply is a classic. "Yes, sir, and so I can," he told the red-faced
composer. "But not at first sight!"
"About 700 people showed up for the first official performance, which was
a bit of a problem, since the concert hall was designed to seat only 600.
I imagine things got a little cozy. To make things a little more comfortable
for the audience, newspaper advertisements announcing the concert had stated
that, in order to make more room, women should wear skirts without hoops
and the men should leave their swords at home. It's so much safer that way.
There were no reports of any injuries, so either the gentlemen did remember
to leave their swords at home or they were all careful about not jabbing
anyone. I'm not sure about the ladies and their hooped skirts."
Barber also tells us about the not too technically proficient but very
emotionally expressive soprano, Susannah Cibber: "...Cibber's delivery was
so moving that, as the story goes, at the first performance after she had
finished singing "He was despised", Dr Patrick Delany, the chancellor of
St. Patrick's Cathedral, stood up from the audience and shouted, "Woman,
for this, be all thy sins forgiven." That was awfully decent of him, especially
considering that Susannah Cibber had more than a few sins that probably needed
forgiving. In fact, her escapades had made her quite the talk of the town."
Trevor Pinnock contributes his impressions of the work, declaring his love
for the work and remarking on its sheer resilience in the face of so many
So, with this little gem of a book, you, too, can turn the handle on