‘Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crouded Audience. The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.’
The Dublin Journal on Handel’s Messiah, April 1742
Composed in an extraordinary three-week burst of creativity, Handel’s Messiah made its debut at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin on 13 April 1742 amidst great excitement. The hall, designed to accommodate 600 people, was so packed that women were asked to leave their skirt hoops at home and men to dispense with their ceremonial swords.
Handel was taking quite a risk: the alto soloist, Susannah Cibber, was a London actress who had fled to Dublin to avoid a sex scandal, while Jonathan Swift had dismissed the orchestra as ‘a club of fiddlers in Fishamble Street’. But, with Handel himself leading the performance on harpsichord, the performance was a triumph. Critics hailed it as ‘the finest composition of musick that ever was heard.’
Following his return to London Handel made significant revisions to the score, but for this year’s Festival, celebrating the 275th anniversary of Messiah, Ensemble Marsyas presents the first Irish performance in modern times of the original Dublin version. Performed in the magical atmosphere of St Canice’s Cathedral, this is an unmissable opportunity to experience Handel’s glorious masterpiece as the audience in that crowded hall would have heard it.