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George Frideric Handel's Messiah is one of the most beautiful musical renditions of Scripture ever created. What we don’t often hear about is the troubled back story during the writing of the Messiah. It was at this time that Handel was struggling financially because there was a shift in music, and he was not fast enough to change his musical style. He ran out of money and his 2 previous oratorios were shut down after their first performance. His financial backers refused to give him any more money.


The words of Scripture have been so beautifully put to music by George Friedrich Handel. The Messiah goes to the very heart of the Christian faith. It articulates it in a way which is subtle but simple. The three acts of this oratorio are divided into part one which is hope and prophecy. Part two is suffering and despair and part three is triumph and redemption. That's a story everyone, whether they're a believer or not, everyone can identify with that. The text was prepared in July by the prominent librettist, Charles Jennens, who had just learned that his younger brother committed suicide after being bullied at Oxford University, and it was during this time of grief that he collected these Scriptures to be used for an Easter performance by Handel the following year. He called it, “A Collection of Scripture”. He said, "I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excel all his former Compositions, as the Subject excels every other Subject," Jennens wrote to a friend.

Susannah Cibber who would eventually become one of the contraltos was so popular at that time that she was mobbed in the streets not unlike royalty or a modern-day Taylor Swift. She was wealthy, and extremely talented, and yet married a terrible man named Theophilus Cibber who would later spend all her money, selling off her possessions and dresses to pay his debts and then sell her off to someone he owed money to by manner of prostitution at gunpoint. Turns out… She fell in love with this man and had 2 children with him outside of marriage. Once the papers found out, they took her children away and declared her an unfit mother. Her divorce case became part of the newspaper headlines for almost a year.

Handel, desperate to try out his new oratorio, the Messiah was unable to get any backing in London but a friend of his in Dublin Ireland was willing to invest because they had just opened a new opera house. On the doorsteps of the opera house in Dublin, Handel bumped into Susannah Cibber. She was fleeing the paparazzi in London and trying to make a new life for herself. She was destitute and without work. He immediately asked her to participate in singing the Messiah.

It burst onto the stage of Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The audience swelled to a record 700, as ladies had heeded pleas by management to wear dresses "without hoops" to make "room for more company." Handel's superstar status was not the only draw; many also came to glimpse the contralto, Susannah Cibber, then embroiled in a scandalous divorce.

Both Anglican and Baptist clergy were in the audience on opening night to make sure that they could recommend the oratorio to their people because of Susannah’s past.

The men and women in attendance sat mesmerized from the moment the tenor followed the mournful string overture with his piercing opening line: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God." Soloists alternated with wave upon wave of chorus, until, near the midway point, Cibber intoned:

“He was despised, despised and rejected, rejected of men; a man of sorrows, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (The Messiah, number 23 “He Was Despised”)

Here this woman who was also despised and rejected could understand in a small way what Jesus was going through. She was also acquainted with grief and to be able to sing through to the end of the Messiah about the triumph and resurrection of Jesus must’ve been an emotional experience.

So moved was the Rev. Patrick Delany that he leapt to his feet and cried out: "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!"

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