Knock’s Messiah marks 275th anniversary of première

Knock’s Messiah marks 275th anniversary of première Anne Marie Gibbons
Pat O’Kelly


History will be made this weekend with Handel’s Messiah heard for the first time in the Basilica at Knock on Saturday evening. Under Proinnsías Ó Duinn, the occasion commemorates the 275th anniversary of the oratorio’s première in Neal’s Musick Hall in Dublin’s Fishamble Street.

The current event unites Our Lady’s Choral Society, Cór Mhaigh Eó and Ballina Chamber Choir with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. The four distinguished international soloists are soprano Claudia Boyle, Co. Mayo-born and based mezzo Anne Marie Gibbons, tenor Julian Hubbard and bass Christopher Coll.

Born in Halle, near Leipzig, in 1685, Handel possessed exceptional musical talent from an early age. His family wished him to follow law but eventually gave their blessing to his preferred path.

From 1703 he worked in Hamburg’s Opera Theatre where his first stage work – Almira – had considerable success in 1707. Deciding to hone his art further, he travelled to Rome where leading musicians – among them Arcangelo Corelli and, father and son, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti – adopted him. His fame spread rapidly and his opera Agrippina ran for an unprecedented 27 performances following its St Stephen’s Day première in Venice in 1709.


Returning to Germany, Handel became Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover and when the latter assumed the English throne as George I in 1714 the composer moved with him to London, where his operas and oratorios proved remarkably popular.

Handel came to Dublin in November 1741 on the invitation of Lord Lieutenant, William Cavendish. With the manuscript of Messiah in his luggage, he was soon part of the city’s thriving music scene. He introduced a number of his works to Dublin audiences before Messiah had its first performance on April 13, 1742, during Holy Week.

The chorus was drawn for St Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals and, while the three female soloists came from England, the five men were local vicars choral. Handel directed with the profits going to the relief of prisoners, Mercer’s Hospital and the Infirmary on Inns Quay.

Messiah has been part and parcel of Our Lady’s Choral Society’s repertoire since its inception in 1945 and, following Knock, it brings the oratorio to the National Concert Hall on December 6, 7 and 8.

The smaller vocal group Resurgam and Irish Baroque Orchestra, under Peter Whelan, take Messiah to Christ Church Cathedral on December 7 and 8 while Belfast’s Philharmonic Choir and Ulster Orchestra, conducted by Paul Daniel, perform it at the Waterfront Hall on the December 8 and 9.


Newman University Church on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green is next Tuesday’s venue for the first performance here of Patrick Cassidy’s The Mass. With New Dublin Voices and the All Ireland Symphony Orchestra under David Brophy, Cassidy’s setting celebrates the official opening of the Notre Dame-Newman Centre for Faith and Reason, based in University Church.

Living in California, the self-taught Claremorris-born composer is renowned for his film and TV scores including Hannibal, Veronica Guerin and Calvary. Patrick Cassidy came to prominence in the 1990s with his choral symphony The Children of Lir.