Handel’s Messiah is one of the most famous and well-loved pieces of classical music ever written, but it seems as though the wool’s been pulled over our eyes ever so slightly for the last 270 years or so, after the discovery of letters from Handel himself giving the credit to one Charles Jennens.
Never heard of him? No, neither have we, but this unknown man – a wealthy patron – is apparently largely responsible for this epic composition. Handel wrote to him personally, referring to the piece as “your Messiah” and “your oratorio Messiah”.
Scholars of the time believe that Jennens was in fact responsible for the words and the theme and had to work very hard to persuade Handel to take on the composition at all, with the text sitting on a shelf for a whole year before the composer agreed to make a start on it.
Director of Handel House Museum Sarah Bardwell told the Daily Telegraph: “Without Jennens there would be no Messiah. He really is unknown among the general public, but it was he who had the idea to create the Messiah in the first place. He chose the text with the music he wanted Handel to make in mind and suggested it to him. He gave it to him and said he really wanted him to tell this important story. It all came from Jennens; without him we would quite simply not have the Messiah.”
Handel’s handwritten letters are now on display at the museum as part of an exhibition – on until April 2013 – delving deeper into the origins of the work and into Jennens himself.