A Masterpiece for the Holidays

December 13th, 2:00 p.m., at Québec Baroque
Streaming Concert – Available until December 26th, 11:59 p.m.

The Masterpiece for the Holidays

Handel, through his signature melodies and fullness of harmony, brings together in his MESSIAH the contemplation of divine mystery, compassion, hope and triumph at its most poignant.

For this performance, L’Harmonie des saisons will present the first part of the Messiah, which recounts the events surrounding the birth of Jesus; and will end with the Hallelujah, replete with its irresistible, exuberant choir, today a universal symbol of joy and gratitude.

Originally conceived for the Easter season, Messiah, the great Oratorio which illuminates musically the prophecy of the coming and resurrection of Christ, is today associated with the feast of Christmas. Handel composed it in twenty-four days at the end of the year 1741, following a severe physical and moral crisis. The work had its premier in April of the following year in Dublin; Handel having retired there to escape the unfolding controversies in London of which he was the subject.

Around this time, the success of Italian opera, to which he had devoted most of his career, had begun to decline. During the 1730’s he began in earnest, with little understanding of the path he was taking, the composition of oratorios in the English language. This form— which he would bring to unprecedented heights— enabled him, through the use of biblical subjects, to speak of human nature in broad terms. Moreover, he would develop the genre by breaking the conventional succession of arias and recitatives— applying his creative prowess to all possible modes of choral writing, exhibiting an unrivaled mastery of the form, combining power and versatility. Up to this point, Handel had never resorted to choral forces in his expansive compositions, since the choir did not feature in Italian operas at the time.

Unlike Handel’s other oratorios, Messiah is presented with neither dramatic action nor characters. As a text, librettist Charles Jennens offered Handel a compilation of excerpts from various parts of the Old and New Testaments, arranged to comment upon the redemption of mankind through the arrival of the Messiah, comprising a three-part meditation on the salvation promised to believers. 

Despite a lack of narrative drama, the work is hardly introverted – dramatic, immediate, and highly visual, all of the written details conspire to create deep impact and emotional bonding. The first section relates the promises of Advent and the Nativity: humanity emerges from the darkness and the angel announces the birth of the Child God to the shepherds, inviting them to go to the manger. They are represented musically by a pifa, a type of Sicilian drone whose theme is borrowed from the shepherds of Calabria – piva is the Italian name for the bagpipe. The middle section, which closes with the famous Hallelujah, describes the persistence of darkness in the face of divine intervention and the victory of the risen Christ. The third section- and the shortest— serves as an epilogue: death is overcome by the resurrection and the promise of heaven’s glory.

Handel does not offer us a mystical work: through his signature melodies and fullness of harmony, he brings together the contemplation of divine mystery, compassion, hope and triumph at its most poignant. His emotive impulses serve his convictions— he who readily declared: “I would be very sorry if I only gave pleasure to humanity, I claim to make it better!”

Today, we present the first part (Part the First as Handel called it) of Messiah which recounts the events surrounding the birth of Jesus; and we conclude with the Hallelujah, replete with its irresistible, exuberant choir, today a universal symbol of joy and gratitude.

© François Filiatrault, 2020

Messiah, an Oratorio by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

First part

1. Sinfonia

2. Récitatif, ténor Comfort ye, my people

3.Air, ténor Every valley shall be exalted

4.Choeur, And the glory of the Lord

5. Récitatif, basse Thus saith the Lord

6. Air, alto But who may abide

7. Choeur, And he shall purify

8. Récitatif, alto Behold, a virgin shall conceive

9. Air, alto & choeur O thou that tellest good tidings

10. Récitatif, basse For behold, darkness shall cover the earth

11. Air, basse The people that walked in darkness

12. Choeur, For unto us a child is born

13. Pifa (Pastoral Symphony)

14a. Récitatif, soprano There were shepherds abiding in the field

14b. Air, soprano But lo, the angel of the Lord

15. Récitatif, soprano And the angel of the Lord said unto them

16.  Récitatif, soprano And suddenly there was with the angel

17. Choeur, Glory to God

18. Air, soprano Rejoice, greatly

19. Récitatif, alto Then shall the eyes of the blind

20. Air, alto & soprano He shall feed His flock

21. Choeur, His yoke is easy and his burden is light

22. Choeur, Halleluia

Recording at Bishop Stewart Memorial Church, Frelighsburg, Québec and at St. George Anglican Church, Granby, Québec (September, October and November 2020

Production : L’Harmonie des saisons

L’Harmonie des saisons

Mélisande Corriveau, artistic director

Eric Milnes, musical director



Hélène Brunet, soprano

Daniel Taylor, alto

Philippe Gagné, tenor

Jonathon Adams, baritone



Bronwyn Thies-Thompson, soprano

Rebecca Dowd-Lexk, soprano

Maude Fréchette-Gagné, soprano

Josée Lalonde, alto

Matthew Muggeridge, alto

Maude Côté-Gendron, alto

Kerry Bursey, tenor

Jean-Sébastien Allaire, tenor

Bernard Cayouette, tenor

William Kraushaar, bass

Clayton Kennedy, bass

Léo McKenna, bass



Julia Wedman, solo violin

Noemy Gagnon-Lafrenais, violin

Marie Nadeau-Tremblay, violin

Guillaume Villeneuve, violin

Laura Andriani, violin

Jessy Dubé, violin

Hélène Plouffe, viola

Margaret Little, viola

Mélisande Corriveau, cello

Felix Deak, cello

Pierre Cartier, double bass

Matthew Jennejohn, oboe

Karim Nasr, oboe

François Viault, bassoon

Christopher Price, trompet

Amir Rabinovitz, trompet

Philip Hornsey, timpany

Eric Milnes, harpsichord

– –

Michel Keable, animation

Mario Proulx, interview

François Filiatrault, texts

Eric Milnes, recording, editing and mixing

Huei Lin, videography

Pascal Piché, videography assistance

Chantal Poulin, management and graphics

Eric Milnes, video montage

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