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Handel's Messiah: Past & Present

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As is customary during the Christmas season, Handel's Messiah will be returning to Perth Concert Hall later this December! This year, the musical rite of passage will be presented by Perth Symphonic Chorus and directed by Perth's own incredible choral director, Dr Margaret Pride OAM. Below is a fascinating blog post written by Dr Pride about the origin of Messiah as well as Perth Symphonic Chorus' interpretation of the masterpiece and the charity work they have done through their Messiah performances.


Did you know Handel’s Messiah is the most successful choral-orchestral work the world has ever seen? More scores of this work are sold annually than any other choral work, in spite of it being written over 270 years ago. Thousands upon thousands of singers perform it annually with audiences totalling millions around the world. In Australia alone it is estimated a quarter of a million people sing or attend its performances, or listen to its broadcast every year. It is the blockbuster and number one on the charts of all time!

First presented in Dublin in 1742 as a charity concert for charities such as the debtors prisoners in Dublin, Messiah was greeted with massive acclaim and enthusiasm. Inspired by the topic (and of course a pressing deadline!) Handel wrote this work in 24 days. He felt he was under divine inspiration and during the writing of the Hallelujah concert and believed he ‘saw all heaven’ before him. Bookings were so enthusiastic that gentlemen were requested to remove their swords and ladies to refrain from wearing hoops under their dresses. Handel and all performers gave their services gratuitously.

Messiah’s first performances in London however weren’t as successful at first. Handel and his new oratorio were unbelievably snubbed. Fashionable tastes, petty rivalry and various prejudices by a frivolous clique kept audiences and critics away. Lady Brown, for instance, a lady of influence and standing, gave tea parties whenever his performances were advertised, Lady Godolphin made up card playing sets on concert nights, and Mr Russell, a well- known comic man, was hired to sing at great houses to attract audiences away from Handel’s events. Not only the Messiah but his other oratorios suffered the same fate causing Handel to become bankrupt. By 1746 Handel had however cleared his debts and in 1750 began the first of his annual charity Messiah performances at the London Foundling Hospital. 

Little was Handel to know how successful the oratorio was to become and how the title of genius was to be bestowed on him for this great work amongst others.

Our Interpretation

Perth Symphonic Chorus has become renowned around Australia for the exceptional performances of the Messiah, a reputation gained from national broadcasts on ABC FM and recognition from visiting soloists from around Australia and overseas. We have been presenting this work at the Perth Concert Hall since 2006 accompanied by the Perth Baroque Orchestra led by the brilliant Paul Wright.

Our style is as close to Handel’s intentions as we believe is possible. The orchestra is scaled down to the numbers used in his lifetime while the phrasing and vocal approach mirrors the technique of his time. Motif shapes, bowing techniques and dynamic patterns follow 18th century trends and the work is interpreted dramatically, the delivery and effective treatment of the text being paramount to the success of the work. In addition, the chorus is placed on the stage in a crescent shape, essential for a work with frequent instrumental doubling of the choral lines. 

Unlike Handel, however, we don’t employ actors for the solos! Our four soloists are some of the finest vocalists available and are true interpreters of Baroque style. Their approach is to move, delight, and sometimes amaze the audience.

Margaret Pride’s interpretation of this great work has been described as sublime and yet powerful, her forces being marshalled to give an interpretation of great beauty, integrity and passion. 

Charity Work

Copying Handel’s charity work, Perth Symphonic Chorus has raised over $30,000 for the Salvation Army Christmas Appeal through its Messiah performances. 

Written by Dr Margaret Pride OAM

Don't miss out! Secure your tickets to Handel's Messiah here.