Messiah and the choirs of St Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals, in Dublin
At noon on the 13 April the members of Our Lady’s Choral Society will assemble in Fishamble Street, in the shadow of Christ Church cathedral, where they will sing the famous Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
They began this outdoor performance in 1992 to mark
the 250th anniversary of the first performance of Messiah and year by year the event has
grown in popularity so that it now a favourite part of the Dublin musical calendar. It has been since 1946 in fact that Our Lady’s Choral Society has maintained the tradition of performing Messiah in or around Christmas, including at least three performances every Christmas in the National Concert Hall since it opened 1981, and from 1992 the annual street performance on “Messiah Day” – the 13 April.
More details about “Messiah in the Street” will be found on the OLCS website www.olcs.ie/messiah.htm.
The first performance of Messiah was given at noon on 13 April 1742 in Neal’s Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, and five out of the eight soloists, as well as members of the chorus, were drawn from the ranks of the choirs of Christ Church cathedral and St Patrick’s cathedrals.
The involvement of the cathedral choirs in this performance reflected the growing opportunities for choirmen and choristers to sing outside the cathedrals, and also suggested that the cathedrals had a very competent body of singers who were capable of a high standard of performance.
However, the involvement of cathedral singers in secular concerts was not welcomed by the cathedral authorities. In December 1741, for example, the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church had threatened to discipline the organist and any choirman or chorister who assisted at musical performances without the special leave of the chapter.
That this was not an altogether idle threat was evident in the following year when in May 1742 the chapter agreed that Joseph Ward and John Hill, both of whom had been soloists in the first performance of Messiah, should be fined for singing at a public musical performance in Neal’s Musick Hall.
However, this fine related not to a performance of Messiah which took place on 13 April but to a performance that was given on 21 May – which may have been of Handel’s Saul.
The records of both cathedral chapters are strangely silent about the participation of cathedral singers in Messiah. We know from the surviving chapter act books of the dean and chapter for both cathedrals (kept safe at the RCB Library – those for Christ Church covering the period 1574 and those for St Patrick’s from 1643 to 1980) that the Christ Church chapter met on five occasions between January and April 1742 and the chapter of St Patrick’s on three occasions over the same period but as neither sets of minutes refers to a musical performance on 13 April it is not known if the singers had the blessing of the cathedral chapters for their historic performance.
However, both cathedrals subsequently absorbed Messiah into their repertoires. There are several scores from the oratorio in the Christ Church music books while in St Patrick’s, music from Messiah is a standard a feature on the Christmas and Easter music lists.
In April 1942, from surviving orders of service and
related concert programmes in the St Patrick’s cathedral collection of records,
we learn that celebratory Messiah bicentenary
concerts were held, when the united cathedral choirs gave two successive
performances of the work – the first in St Patrick’s cathedral on Monday 13
April, and the second in Christ Church cathedral on Tuesday 14 April.
A digital version of the commemorative programme may be viewed below.
Reviews of the April 2013 Archive of the Month:–
ChristianToday – A less well known aspect of the story is that at the first performance of Messiah five out of the eight soloists, as well as members of the chorus, were drawn from the ranks of the choirs of the Church of Ireland’s two cathedrals in Dublin:– click here for article.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood