Chapman Challenge: The Story Behind Handel’s “Messiah”

KUSC’s Alan Chapman has a lot to say about music, but can he say it in 60 seconds? That’s the Chapman Challenge. We ask a question and Alan has a minute to answer it.

Today’s question is from Laura in Costa Mesa. She writes, “It’s the big season for Handel’s Messiah. What can you tell me about Handel’s oratorios in sixty seconds?”

Hit play below to listen to this week’s Chapman Challenge on Arts Alive.

First I can tell you that Handel encountered oratorios during his four years in Italy. Italian oratorios usually had an Old Testament story which was set to music in the operatic style, with recitatives and arias. While he was in Italy, Handel composed an oratorio, but on a New Testament subject, the Resurrection.

When Handel got to England, he wrote a work based on the biblical story of Esther. It was different from the Italian oratorios because it included choruses. And this work, from 1718, would be the first English oratorio.

By the 1730s, Handel’s oratorios had become quite profitable and that was very fortunate for him. The vogue for Italian operas in London had diminished and throughout the decade Handel used his oratorio income to subsidize his opera losses.

Finally, in 1741, Handel decided to call it quits as far as Italian opera was concerned. And it was in the summer of that same year that Handel was presented with a new libretto for an oratorio called Messiah.

That’s today’s Chapman Challenge. Is there a question you’d like to have answered in 60 seconds? Send it to us at [email protected]

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Alan Chapman

Alan Chapman

Alan Chapman, in addition to his weekday morning program, is also the host and producer of two weekend programs: Modern Times and A Musical Offering.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he earned a Ph.D. in music theory from Yale University. He is currently a member of the music theory faculty of the Colburn Conservatory. He was a longtime member of the music faculty at Occidental College and has also been a visiting professor at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. His analytical work has appeared in the Journal of Music Theory and in The New Orpheus: Essays on Kurt Weill, winner of the Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing on music.

Well known as a pre-concert lecturer, Alan has been a regular speaker on the L.A. Philharmonic’s “Upbeat Live” series since its inception in 1984. He also works closely with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Pacific Symphony. His lectures have been presented by virtually every major performing organization in southern California. He has been heard globally as programmer and host of the inflight classical channel on Delta Airlines.

Alan is also active as a composer/lyricist. His songs have been performed and recorded by many artists around the world and have been honored by ASCAP, the Johnny Mercer Foundation, and the Manhattan Association of Cabarets. His children’s opera Les Moose: The Operatic Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle was commissioned by LA Opera for its 1997-98 season. Alan frequently appears in cabaret evenings with his wife, soprano Karen Benjamin. They made their Carnegie Hall debut in 2000 and performed at Lincoln Center in 2006. Their recent CD, Que Será, Será: The Songs of Livingston and Evans, features the late Ray Evans telling the stories behind such beloved songs as “Mona Lisa” and “Silver Bells.”