24 December 2009
Handel's Messiah in his own hand
From The Guardian...
Hallelujah! What a Christmas present from the British Library: a chance to peer into the inner workings of Handel's Messiah, with a selection of pages from the composer's draft score of 1741 available for free at their online gallery. Actually, "draft" is something of a misnomer: what you'll see (and read about, and hear) at the British Library site comes pretty close to the final version we all know and love. The top tunes of the Messiah are all here, from Ev'ry Valley to the final Amen, laid down in Handel's magnificently energetic scrawl. As the British Library commentary points out, it might seem like a superhuman feat that Handel conceived the entire oratorio from beginning to end in 24 short days in the summer of 1741, but that's entirely in keeping with what we know about the composer's working practices. In fact, he finished another huge oratorio, Samson, by the end of October the same year.
The revelation of this Messiah score is the thousands of corrections and rubbings-out you can see. Handel didn't get everything right first time, and, in the changes he makes, you get a rare insight into his dynamic compositional process. There's even a dramatic ink-spillage on one of the pages, making the music almost illegible.
The miraculous thing about the Messiah is the way it's become enmeshed in our collective Christmas consciousness, and these pages are the place it all started. It's a privilege to see them. Maybe next year, the British Library will make the whole score available. Until then – the New Year, that is – have a happy, Handelian Christmas.
Start here, and with a safe, simple download you will see Handel's own hand as it wrote The Messiah.