IT’S NOT THE MESSIAH – IT’S JUST MESSIAH
“He’s not the Messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy!” So said Terry Jones, aka Brian Cohen’s mother, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And Handel’s most famous and beloved English oratorio is not The Messiah – it’s just Messiah.
But saying it’s ‘just’ Messiah does no more than clarify the title of the work. In no measure is it intended to diminish the greatness and significance of this perennial masterpiece. I cannot think of any other major choral composition in the English language that is so universally loved and cherished. It’s nearly three hundred years since it had its premier performance in Dublin, and it has rarely been out of regular concert repertoire since. Indeed, at this point in time, nearly a quarter of the way through the twenty-first century, it is arguably as popular, if not more so, than at any other time in its history.
There are many stories and anecdotes associated with Messiah. Among the most famous is the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah chorus - a tradition said to have begun in 1743, when King George II rose from his seat, enthralled by the beauty of the music. Not wanting to offend the king, the audience also stood – or so the story goes. But there is no convincing evidence that the king was even present, or that he attended any subsequent performance of Messiah; the first reference to the practice of standing appears in a letter dated 1756, three years prior to Handel's death.
American choral conductor Doreen Rao, when guest artistic director for the Florida Orchestra in 2018, said, “There’s really no viable research to suggest it happened, and scholars say it’s a myth. But if you want to stand because it moves you, then you should stand. People are yearning to do things together, to celebrate things together. So, if standing during the Hallelujah chorus offers you that experience, go for it.’’
Regardless of how and when this tradition originated, it has become an accepted, almost expected part of any performance of Messiah. And it’s just one of many things that make Messiah so special, so much more than ‘just’ Messiah. Looking at ‘just’ the music itself, so many of the choruses and arias are so well known that they could be part of a choral music ‘greatest hits’ collection – ‘Comfort Ye my People’; ‘For Unto Us a Child Is Born’; ‘And the Glory of the Lord’; ‘I Know That My Redeemer Liveth’ – are just a few of the priceless gems in this musical treasure chest.
Oriana Choir has performed Messiah a number of times in the past. But it never gets old. The music never loses its unique appeal. And for the Choir, it is never ‘just’ Messiah. It’s fresh, challenging and delightful every time. Which is why, between now and November the 25th, Oriana’s focus is on ‘just’ Messiah.
Saturday, Nov. 25, 2.00 pm – Goodlife Community Centre, Buderim
Sunday, Nov. 26, 3.00 pm – Brisbane City Hall
For bookings and information, go to www.oriana.org.au