The Messiah

In Brief

In Lestrygonians Bloom sees a sign advertising the Mirus Bazaar "In aid of funds for Mercer's hospital" and thinks, "The Messiah was first given for that. Yes. Handel." He is correct. In Circe the oratorio's triumphant Hallelujah chorus turns on him, proclaiming him an enemy of the Christian faith.

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Dubliners are proud of the fact that George Frederic Handel completed his magnificent work while living in their city. Gifford notes that the composer "presented the Messiah 'to offer this generous and polished nation something new' (because he regarded Dublin as more friendly and receptive than London)" (187).

Handel conducted the first performance at a house called the Musick Hall on 13 April 1742, during Easter week, to an audience of about 700 people. Flora Mitchell notes that "Accommodation was inadequate for the number of people wishing to attend and the condition was imposed that no hoops or swords were to be worn" (28). The reception was enthusiastic. The premiere performance benefited three charities, including Mercer's Hospital.

In Circe, as Bloom is immolated by the Inquisition, "A choir of six hundred voices, conducted by Mr Vincent O'Brien, sings the Alleluia chorus from Handel's Messiah, accompanied on the organ by Joseph Glynn. Bloom becomes mute, shrunken, carbonised."

JH 2014
Drawing of the Musick Hall by an unknown artist, published in The Musical Times, December 1903, p. 799. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The old Musick Hall on Fishamble Street, converted into an iron foundry by the time of this watercolor by Flora Mitchell. Source: Vanishing Dublin.