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April 2013

Archive of the Month

Messiah and the choirs of St Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals, in Dublin

   

Detail from the Hallelujah chorus, part book of Christ Church cathedral (RCB Library C6.1.24.3.6).
Detail from the Hallelujah chorus, part book of Christ Church cathedral (RCB Library C6.1.24.3.6).

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.

Site of Neal's Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, courtesy of Canon Patrick Comerford. Commemorative plaque erected in Fishamble Street, Dublin.
Site of Neal’s Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, courtesy of Canon Patrick Comerford.

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.

A collage of Our Lady's Choral Society images from the Messiah performance in April 2008.  Images courtesy OLCS and Fionn McCann
A collage of Our Lady’s Choral Society images from the Messiah performance in April 2008. Images courtesy OLCS and Fionn McCann

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 named men members of the choirs of both cathedrals who performed the first Messiah in April 1742, together with unnamed choristers (RCB Library C2.7.5).
The named men members of the choirs of both cathedrals who performed the first Messiah in April 1742, together with unnamed choristers (RCB Library C2.7.5).

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.

Christ Church cathedral, copy chapter act book, 1740-69 (RCB Library, C6.1.8.6, p. 6).
Christ Church cathedral, copy chapter act book, 1740–69 (RCB Library, C6.1.8.6, p. 8).

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.

Christ Church cathedral, copy chapter act book 1740-69 (RCB Library, C6.1.8.6, p. 11).
Christ Church cathedral, copy chapter act book 1740–69 (RCB Library, C6.1.8.6, p. 11).

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.

Christ Church cathedral, part book (RCB Library C6.1.24.3.6
Christ Church cathedral, part book (RCB Library C6.1.24.3.6).

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.

St Patrick's cathedral, orders of service St Patrick's cathedral, orders of service
St Patrick’s cathedral, orders of service including the named men members of the choirs of both cathedrals who performed at the bicentenary (RCB Library C2.7.5).

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.

Service1
Service2
Service3


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
RCB Library
Braemor Park
Churchtown
Dublin 14
Tel: 01–4923979
Fax: 01–4924770
E–mail: susan.hood@rcbdub.org