“The fine Providence Singers dispatched [the Esperanto text] on lovely rivers of pentatonic melody”
The Boston Globe
15 November 2009
(Harrison La Koro Sutro)


Handel: Messiah

The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra
The Providence Singers
Christine Noel, Artistic Director, conducting

Sonja Tengblad, soprano      Margaret Lias, mezzo soprano
Marc Molomot, tenor      Nicholas Laroche, baritone

7 p.m. Saturday, December 15, 2018
Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Providence

G.F. Handel
George Frideric Handel  (1685–1759)
Portrait by Balthasar Denner, ca. 1726-28
George Frideric Handel
Messiah  HWV 56 (1742)
“I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon [the libretto], that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other subject. The Subject is Messiah.”
— Librettist Charles Jennens (1700–73)

Somewhere in the world on any given day, an audience is hearing George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, perhaps the most universally loved composition for chorus and orchestra ever written.

In Europe, the oratorio is likely in the spring, leading to Easter. Handel himself conducted the première in April and usually presented the work at that time of year. In North America, ensembles most often present Messiah during Advent, leading to Christmas.

Handel received the libretto from a frequent collaborator, Charles Jennens, in the summer of 1741. “Handel says he will do nothing next Winter,” Jennens wrote to a friend, “but I hope I shall persuade Him to set another Scripture Collection I have made for him, & perform it for his own Benefit in Passion Week.”

Whether because of Jennens’ persuasiveness or not, Handel delved into the project. He began work on August 22, 1741, and completed the entire composition in 24 days.

Handel built his previous oratorios around strong characters and strong stories — Solomon, Samson, Saul, Julius Caesar. But London audiences were growing tired of Italian opera. Messiah was a departure: It has no characters. The chorus and soloists serve as majestic storytellers, providing narrative and commentary that propels the drama forward.

After completing Messiah, Handel accepted an invitation to travel to Dublin for a series of charity concerts. The premiére — April 13, 1742, in Dublin’s New Music Hall in Fishambe Street — was presented to a packed house. Gentlemen were asked not to wear swords, and women were encouraged to wear fashions without hoops, so that the hall could accommodate more people.

The performance was a tremendous success, as the Dublin Journal reported:

(T)he best Judges allowed (Messiah) to be the most finished piece of music. Words are wanted to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crowded audience. The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear. It is but justice to Mr. Handel, that the World should know, he generously gave the Money arising from this Grand Performance, to be equally shared by the Society for relieving Prisoners, the Charitable Infirmary, the Mercer’s Hospital, for which they will ever gratefully remember his Name ...

The London premiére, nearly a year later on March 23, 1743, raised questions about the propriety of performing the work in a playhouse rather than a church. It was also the London performance that established a tradition that continues to this day, described by one observer: “When the chorus struck up ‘for the Lord God Omnipotent’ [in ‘Hallelujah’], they were so transported that they all together, with the King, started up and remained standing till the chorus ended.”

Messiah was certainly the centerpiece of Handel’s prolific career. On April 6, 1759, the composer made his final public appearance, conducting Messiah in London. Eight days later, he was dead at the age of 74. His funeral, held at Westminster Abbey, attracted an estimated 3,000 mourners.

The French sculptor Louis Roubiliac created a monument to Handel and Messiah, dedicated at the Abbey three years later. The monument depicts Handel, score in hand. Overhead, an angel plays a lyre. The score is opened to the soprano solo that inaugurates Part III of Messiah: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”

In Handel’s design of the oratorio, Part I focuses on the grave and desperate situation of Israel. It dwells on prophesy, on the assurance of eventual comfort, and on attributes of the longed-for Messiah. Handel’s choice of musical form reflects his thematic considerations. The voice of prophecy speaks through accompanied recitative, but contemplative moments like “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd” are cast in the more static form of an aria. Where the feeling of the text is collective, as in “His Yoke is Easy,” the singing is entrusted to the choral form of an anthem. The text of Part I is compiled from the books of Isaiah, Haggai, Malachi, Luke, Zachariah and Matthew.

Part II tells of the Messiah’s life on Earth, his passion, and death. The initial chorus “Behold the Lamb of God” anticipates the basic message of this part, yet the remainder deals with themes that forecast deliverance and victory. The text of Part II is compiled from the books of John, Isaiah, Psalms, Lamentations, Hebrews, Romans, and Revelation.

Part III focuses on the fundamentals of faith, the existence of God, the promise of eternal life, and eternal peace. The aria “I know that my Redeemer liveth” functions as a natural prologue for these themes. The middle section forecasts the final judgment in the great aria “The trumpet shall sound,” and the entire work is crowned with a tremendous fugal “Amen.” Texts for Part III are from Job, Corinthians, Romans and Revelation.

Messiah  HWV 56 (1742)
Libretto by Charles Jennens (1700–73)

Part I

No. 1. Overture

No. 2. Recitative: Comfort ye my people (Tenor)
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplishèd, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:1-3)

No. 3. Air: Every valley shall be exalted (Tenor)
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. (Isaiah 40:4)

No. 4. Chorus: And the glory of the Lord
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealèd, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:5)

No. 5. Recitative: Thus saith the Lord (Bass)
Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: --Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come. (Haggai 2:6, 7)

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in; Behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

No. 6. Air: But who may abide (Alto)
But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner's fire. (Malachi 3:2)

No. 7. Chorus: And He shall purify And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3:3)

No. 8. Recitative: Behold, a virgin shall conceive (Alto)
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name EMMANUEL, God with us. (Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23)

No. 9. Air and Chorus: O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (Alto)
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! (Isaiah 40:9)

Arise, shine, for thy Light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. (Isaiah 60:1)

No. 10. Recitative: For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth (Bass)
For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee, and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:2, 3)

No. 11. Air: The people that walked in darkness (Bass)
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

No. 12. Chorus: For unto us a child is born
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be callèd Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

No. 13. Pastoral Symphony

No. 14a. Recitative: There were shepherds abiding in the field (Soprano)
There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. (Luke 2:8)

No. 14b. Recitative: And lo! the Angel of the Lord came upon them (Soprano)
And lo! the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. (Luke 2:9)

No. 15. Recitative: And the angel said unto them (Soprano)
And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10, 11)

No. 16. Recitative: And suddenly there was with the angel (Soprano)
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: (Luke 2:13)

No. 17. Chorus: Glory to God
Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14)

No. 18. Air: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion (Soprano)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee. He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen. (Zechariah 9:9, 10)

No. 19. Recitative: Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened (Alto)
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstoppèd; then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. (Isaiah 35:5, 6)

No. 20. Air: He shall feed his flock like a shepherd (Alto and Soprano)
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)

Come unto Him, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and He shall give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him for He is meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28, 29)

No. 21. Chorus: His yoke is easy, and His burthen is light
His yoke is easy and His burthen is light. (Matthew 11:30)

Part II

No. 22. Chorus: Behold the Lamb of God
Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

No. 23. Air: He was despised (Alto)
He was despisèd and rejected of men: a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)

He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6)

No. 24. Chorus: Surely He hath borne our griefs
Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our trangressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. (Isaiah 53:4, 5)

No. 25. Chorus: And with His stripes we are healed
And with His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

No. 26. Chorus: All we like sheep have gone astray
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turnèd every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

No. 27. Recitative: All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn (Tenor)
All they that see Him, laugh Him to scorn, they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads saying: (Psalm 22:7)

No. 28. Chorus: He trusted in God that He would deliver Him
He trusted in God that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him. (Psalm 22:8)

No. 29. Recitative: Thy rebuke hath broken His heart (Tenor)
Thy rebuke hath broken His heart; He is full of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man; neither found He any to comfort Him. (Psalm 69:20)

No. 30. Air: Behold, and see if there be any sorrow (Tenor)
Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow. (Lamentations 1:12)

No. 31. Recitative: He was cut off out of the land of the living (Tenor)
He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of Thy people was He stricken. (Isaiah 53:8)

No. 32. Air: But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell (Tenor)
But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell; nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption. (Psalm 16:10)

No. 44. Chorus: Hallelujah
HALLELUJAH! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever. KING OF KINGS, and LORD OF LORDS, HALLELUJAH! (Revelation 19:6; 11:15; 19:16)

Part III

No. 45. Air: I know that my Redeemer liveth (Soprano)
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19:25, 26)

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep. (I Corinthians 15:20)

No. 46. Chorus: Since by man came death
Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (I Corinthians 15:21)

No. 47. Recitative: Behold, I tell you a mystery (Bass)
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep; but we shall all be changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. (I Corinthians 15:51, 52)

No. 48. Air: The trumpet shall sound (Bass)
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:52, 53)

No. 53. Chorus: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 5:12, 13)