Today’s contest for your listening ear
[ by Charles Cameron — sensing the sense of the season, musically, with JS Bach, GF Handel, and a special appearance by Dean Swift ]
Today’s contest is between Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Christmas Oratorio, here performed by Michel Corboz:
and Georg Friedrich Händel‘s Messiah, here under the baton of Sir Colin Davis at the Barbican, with the marvelous Sara Mingardo in the alto role..
Cast your ballots, faites vos jeux — this is a win-win game.
You knew, perhaps — I didn’t — that Dublin, the place of the first performance of Messiah, was at the time spiritually dominated by Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s cathedral, and thus the commander-in-chief under God of that cathedral’s choristers? —
Jonathan Swift of the Modest Proposal “that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled” —
and that the said Dean Swift was at first unwilling to let his choristers sing in what seemed uneasily like an Opera, but later relented?
The child promised, delivered — despised, rejected — crucified and finally arisen in Handel‘s magnificent music himself became, it would seem, bread broken and shared, thus to be digested spiritually by his followers.
Dean Swift, Handel (Händel was quite British by now) — the two of them crossed staves (a pun, that, ahem) in Dublin that year, 1742 of the Common Era or Anno Domini, 16th in the reign of George II. The King’s Viceroy for Ireland at that date would have been William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire, who was a founding governor of the Foundling Hospital in London, an establishment instituted for the “education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children” — note the echo of Dean Swift‘s concerns, a DoubleQuote in history if you will.
George Frederick Handel conducted Messiah to great acclaim in the chapel of Foundling Hospital in 1750, and was elected a Governor the next day.
Swift‘s children get roasted, God‘s child narrowly escapes death at the hands of Herod the Great, but the children of the Foundling Hospital not only get saved from starvation and the gutter, but are exposed to some of the European world’s most magnificent choral music.
Hallelujah! — if you don’t mind me saying so.