Messiah auf deutsch

Handel. Who needed Mozart?(Photo: UPI)
Handel. Who needed Mozart?(Photo: UPI)

George Frederic Handel thought he was writing something pleasant for Easter. The money was good and the audience in Dublin was large and appreciative. Mae West went to Hollywood and said, “I’m a big girl from a big town come to make good in a little town.” Change the pronoun and you have Handel in 1741.  A (very) big boy from a (very) big town slumming it a bit in Dublin.

Don’t remind my sainted Irish grandparents, but Dublin was then a little London, a British satellite. Messiah was warmly received but really took life toward the end of Handel’s life. He began to perform Messiah as a benefit for his favorite charity, London’s Foundling Hospital.

Handel was a great composer and a terrific businessman. (The two don’t always go together.) Handel sensed a big audience for Messiah ’round Yuletide. The Easter portions took second base and Messiah as a smash hit was born.

Mozart admired Handel and loved Messiah. Why would Mozart need to adapt someone else’s music? I believe he loved this oratorio and wanted it performed in Vienna. Mozart re-orchestrated Messiah for a contemporary audience in 1788, thirty years after Handel’s death. And don’t for a minute think the Viennese would stoop to listening to ANYTHING sung in English. Thus we have Handel Messiah arranged by Mozart sung in German.

You are used to hearing this sung by a soprano, in English, in 6/8 time. Mozart had other ideas.

It was unlike Mozart to favor tenors. Did pfennings change hands?

This performance by Marilyn Horne goes with me to the desert island. I know the lady a bit. She couldn’t remember whether or not she ever sang Messiah in German. She did, in London in 1985. I sent her a copy.

And here’s one of the sprightly Messiah choruses, as imagined by Mozart:

 

 

Comments
  • Sheldon Taft

    Christopher: Much as I like Marilyn, Adele Addison’s performance of the “Good Tidings to Zion” air in Bernstein’s “Messiah” is better. Her voice becomes a metaphor for the words – firm when she asks to “lift up thy voice with strength”, tremulous when she asks “be not afraid”.