Handel’s 1741 oratorio Messiah is one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music. But did you know that this sacred masterpiece is also one of our most beloved Royal Albert Hall traditions? Having featured on our programme since our opening in 1871, Handel’s Messiah will return as part of our Christmas celebrations this year.
We compiled six facts about this Royal Albert Hall tradition for you to impress your household, friends and family with. Find out what they are below…
As of December 2019, Handel’s Messiah has been performed in full 524 times at the Royal Albert Hall. Including performances of parts of the work brings the total to 1,106. We estimate that five million audience members have seen a performance of Messiah at the Hall.
The inaugural performance of Messiah at the Hall was on 3 July 1871, by the National Choral Society and Band, totalling a staggering 1,000 performers. This was one of the first of five Messiah concerts in the Hall’s opening year, including a Christmas performance.
Ticket for a performance of ‘Messiah’ on Christmas Day in the 1870s
There is only one year when Messiah was not performed at the Hall: 1940, when the Hall was closed due to fears of bombing during the Second World War. The following year, we reopened our doors for concerts during daylight hours, and air raid warning notices were included in every programme.
1940s handbill for Handel’s ‘Messiah’ at the Royal Albert Hall
Following the 1941 hiatus, Messiah was subsequently performed 18 times during the remainder of World War II. It featured as part of a 1944 concert that was the last event at the Hall before a brief bomb-damage related closure.
A worker undertaking post-war renewal work on the roof at the Royal Albert Hall
On 14 January 1990, HRH Diana, Princess of Wales attended a concert of Handel’s Messiah performed by a choir of 800 voices in aid of the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children.
A version of Messiah featuring the Royal Choral Society under Sir Malcolm Sargent was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1926, which showcases the performance styles that were fashionable at the time – large forces, slow tempi and liberal reorchestration.
Listen to a 1959 recording of Messiah conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent: