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Handel’s Messiah – Dublin’s Lucky Break

GF Handel

GF Handel

It is often said that ‘timing is everything’ and it certainly was the case when George Frideric Handel arrived in Dublin in November 1741. For he was carrying with him the work that was premiered five months later, and which forever ties the German composer and the city together.

The Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, invited Handel, who was at the height of his power and popularity, to play a series of concerts. Matthew Dubourg, the Irish violinist and concertmaster, arranged and selected the musicians. Handel’s concerts between December 1741 and February 1742 were a great success, and he decided to perform a free concert (no fee charged) to raise money for three charities when he would perform Messiah. Handel’s collaborator and librettist Charles Jennens had written the oratorio in the July 1741. The composer completed the music, all 259 pages, in just 24 days between August and September. And, luckily for Dublin, did not perform it.

Neal's Music Hall

Neal’s Music Hall

Dubourg arranged for singers from both Christ Church Cathedral and St Patrick’s Cathedral to take part and sing what would become the famous work,  Hallelujah.  Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s, did not approve of their participation on the grounds that he disliked Messiah and preferred ‘A Sacred Oratorio’. He relented and, as they say ‘the rest is history’.

St Michan's Church

St Michan’s Church

While in Dublin, Handel stayed in Lower Abbey Street and rehearsed much of the oratorio in St Michan’s Church. (The organ that he used is still in use.)   After the success of his earlier concerts there was a great demand for tickets, and over 700 patrons showed up at Neal’s Musick Hall, Fishamble Street on 13th April 1742. (Sadly, like so much ‘development’ carried out in the city over the centuries, the hall was badly treated and only the front arch of the original building remains.) Due to the expected crowding men were asked to ‘leave their swords at home, and women to refrain from wearing hoop skirts.’ It was a lively affair and in the words of one enthusiastic critic: ‘The sublime, the grand and the tender, adapted to the most elevated and moving words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished heart and ear.’  Handel was at the ‘top of his game’.

Messiah, written in stone

Messiah, written in stone

Handel led the performance and played the harpsichord, while Dubourg played violin and conducted the orchestra.And history was made. The oratorio was an immediate success, and Handel performed it again in July (for his own financial benefit) before returning to London. But what a leaving present he gave us. Hallelujah!

Hallelujah Chorus in Fishamble Street

Hallelujah Chorus in Fishamble Street

 

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Christ Church Cathedral – Living History

The old phrase about being ‘steeped in history’ certainly applies to Christ Church Cathedral like no other building in Dublin. When you realise that its foundation took place less than twenty years after the Battle of Clontarf, then that is almost a thousand years of history. Where to begin?

Christ Church Cathedral - in all its glory

Christ Church Cathedral – in all its glory

The original wooden building was rebuilt by Strongbow and other Norman knights after their arrival in 1169. Laurence O’Toole was the then Bishop of Dublin who later became the city’s patron saint. He died in 1180 in Eu, Normandy and his heart was returned to Christ Church where it remained as an item of veneration. However, it was stolen from its casket on 3rd March 2012, and sadly has not been seen since.

Curved Footbridge over Winetavern Street

Curved Footbridge over Winetavern Street

Over the centuries various refurbishments have been carried out with the iconic, curved footbridge added in the 1870s.  A number of small chapels with wonderful stained windows looked great as they were bathed in strong sunlight. And the colourful, tiled floor across which so much history has occurred was a constant reminder of the church’s unique history.

The famous choir began in 1493 and its members took part in the first performance of Frederic Handel’s oratorio Messiah on 13th April 1742 in nearby Fishamble Street. On another musical note a cat and rat were discovered in one of the organ pipes when it was refurbished. The two animals had died and became mummified in the 1850s, and are preserved, under glass, in the Crypt. James Joyce incorrectly referred to them as ‘that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ’ in Finnegans Wake. Joyce, however, had bad eyesight and this proves it! Also in the Crypt, the city’s oldest surviving structure, are numerous, fabulous gold items, statues, stocks, the Crypt Café and costumes from the TV series The Tudors.

The rat and the cat - in the Crypt

The rat and the cat – in the Crypt

And, lastly, up the narrow stairs in the belfry, are the bells that we have all become familiar with as they ring in the New Year, and long may they continue to do so.

Great view from outside the belfry

Great view from outside the belfry

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