On our Easter Sunday today, my beloved wife and I watched the epic story of the Resurrection told through the eyes of a non-believing Roman soldier, the 2016 film RISEN, which made me want to share with you all, the grandest “Hallelujah” chorus:
Handel composed Messiah without getting much sleep or even eating much food. When his assistants brought him his meals, they were often left uneaten. His servants would often find him in tears as he composed. When he completed “Hallelujah,” he reportedly told his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.”
Although the first performance in Dublin on April 13, 1742, was a huge success, Messiah wasn’t met with the same excitement in London the following season. Six scheduled performances were cancelled by Handel in 1743, Messiah was completely removed from the 1744 schedule, and it wasn’t performed in London until 1749.
In another reversal of fortunes, London’s Foundling Hospital held a fundraising concert, where Handel performed a mix of new music and well as older pieces including the “Hallelujah” chorus. At the time, Messiah was still somewhat unknown to London audiences, but the concert was so well received that Handel was invited back the next year, where he performed the entire Messiah oratorio. Performances of Messiah became an Eastertime tradition at the Foundling Hospital until the 1770s. Earnings from many early performances of the oratorio were used to help the poor, needy, orphaned, widowed, and sick.