Messiah (HWV 56) is an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, with a scriptural text compiled byCharles Jennens from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. It was first performed in Dublin on 13 April 1742, 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.[n 1]
Handel's reputation in England, where he had lived since 1713, had been established through his compositions of Italian opera. He turned to English oratorio in the 1730s, in response to changes in public taste; Messiah was his sixth work in this genre. Although its structure resembles that of conventional opera, it is not in dramatic form; there are no impersonations of characters and very little direct speech. Instead, Jennens's text is an extended reflection on Jesus Christ as Messiah, moving from the prophetic utterances of Isaiah and others, through the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Christ to his ultimate glorification in heaven.
Handel wrote Messiah for modest vocal and instrumental forces, with optional settings for many of the individual numbers. In the years after his death the work was adapted for performance on a much larger scale, with giant orchestras and choirs. In other efforts to update it, its orchestration was revised and amplified by (among others) Mozart. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the trend has been towards authenticity; most contemporary performances show a greater fidelity towards Handel's original intentions, although "big Messiah" productions continue to be mounted. Since a near-complete version was issued on 78 rpm discs in 1928, the work has been recorded many times.