Programme Notes for the Christmas Concert by Janette Ruocco

Christmas Concert  – 8 December 2018 Programme Notes    – Janette Ruocco

Messiah [part 1] Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

In July 1741 Handel’s librettist, Charles Jennens wrote that “Handel says he will do nothing next Winter, but I hope I shall persuade him to set another Scripture collection I have made for him….The subject is Messiah.” Jennens selected texts from the authorised version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer and he skilfully combined them to illustrate the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah related in the Gospels.

Although we are only performing Part I of Messiah this evening, readers may appreciate a reminder of the context of three parts that comprise Handel’s setting: Part I Christ’s Coming, Part II Christ’s Passion, Part III Christ’s Resurrection. Handel completed the first draft of Messiah in 24 days, and when it was first performed in Dublin on April 13th 1742 it was very well received. It was quickly taken up by various music societies across the country and its popularity soon eclipsed Handel’s other oratorios.

One historical commentator has described Messiah as a quasi-national institution, citing large-scale performances with choirs of 4000 in the 19th century as providing ‘a convenient mouthpiece for the Victorian doctrines of progress and social amelioration.’

1 Sinfonia

2 Accompagnato: (tenor) Isaiah 40 vv1-3

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

3 Air: (tenor) Isaiah 40 v4

Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill be made low: the crooked straight and the rough places plain:

4 Chorus: Isaiah 40 v5

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

5 Accompagnato: (bass) Haggai 2 vv6-7

Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts: yet once, a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea, and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.

Malachi 3 v1

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.

6 Air: (alto) Malachi 3 v2

But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire.

7 Chorus: Malachi 3 v

And he shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord, an offering of righteousness.

8 Recitative: (alto) Isaiah 7 v14; Matthew 1 v23

Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us.

9 Air: (alto & chorus) Isaiah 40 v9

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

Isaiah 60 v1

Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

10 Accompagnato: (bass) Isaiah 60 vv2-3

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

11 Air: (bass) Isaiah 9 v2

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

12 Chorus: Isaiah 9 v6

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

13 Pifa: Sinfonia pastorale

14a Recitative: (soprano) Luke 2 v8

There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

14b Accompagnato: (soprano) Luke 2 v9

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them: and they were sore afraid.

15 Recitative: (soprano) Luke 2 vv10-11

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

16 Accompagnato: (soprano) Luke 2 v13

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

17 Chorus: Luke 2 v14

Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men.

18 Air: (soprano) Zechariah 9 vv9-10

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is the righteous Saviour, and he shall speak peace unto the heathen.

19 Recitative: (alto) Isaiah 35 vv5-6

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.

20 Duet: (soprano & alto) Isaiah 40 v11

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: and he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Matthew 11 3 vv28-29

Come unto him, all ye that labour, come unto him, that are heavy laden, and he will give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and learn of him; for he is meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

21 Chorus: Matthew 11 v30

His yoke is easy, and his burthen is light. 


German Magnificat Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

Telemann’s German Magnificat (Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn) is based on the song of praise of Mary, taken from Luke 1:vv46-55 in Luther’s translation. Mary uttered this song of praise when Elisabeth foretold that Mary would bear the Messiah.

The text has always had a central place in the Vespers service and, during the Baroque era it was often set to festive music, especially at Christmas. Telemann divides the text into eight sections, allocating four to the choir and one to each of the soloists.


1 Choir

All my spirit exalts the Lord, and I sing joyously to my God, my own Saviour.

2 Soprano

Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

3 Choir

Because he is that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is his name.

4 Alto

And his mercy is from generations unto generations, to them that fear him.

5 Choir

He hath shewed might in his arm and he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble.

6 Tenor

He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy.

7 Bass

As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed for ever.

8 Choir

Glory be to God the Father and the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, and is now, and shall be both now and evermore. Amen.