It was first performed in Dublin on 13 April and received its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music. Handel's reputation in England , where he had lived since , had been established through his compositions of Italian opera. He turned to English oratorio in the s in response to changes in public taste; Messiah was his sixth work in this genre. Although its structure resembles that of opera , it is not in dramatic form; there are no impersonations of characters and no direct speech.
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In , Handel was heavily in debt following a string of musical failures. On April 8, , Handel gave what he believed to be his final concert. Handel would also receive his own commission for composing the work, which in turn helped him on his path to reversing his own misfortune.
The composition of Messiah , the complete page oratorio, began on August 22, , and was composed in just 24 days, when Handel finished the final orchestration on September 14, Handel composed Messiah without getting much sleep or even eating much food.
When his assistants brought him his meals, they were often left uneaten. His servants would often find him in tears as he composed. At the time, Messiah was still somewhat unknown to London audiences, but the concert was so well received that Handel was invited back the next year, where he performed the entire Messiah oratorio. Performances of Messiah became an Eastertime tradition at the Foundling Hospital until the s.
Earnings from many early performances of the oratorio were used to help the poor, needy, orphaned, widowed, and sick. It was also the first recording of a Messiah piece to use an established choir, as all early recordings were made using temporary choirs comprised of provisional singers.
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