Messiah Blog: Day 19

Note: This is part of a series which began on December 10. To start from the beginning of the series, or to access the Table of Contents, click here.

Today’s post will be a little different from the rest of this series, in that I want it to be all about the music! I’m putting off commentary on today’s text until the next entry, so that you can really focus on listening to one of my favorite numbers from Messiah. As a trumpet player, I feel it’s worth taking this detour to enjoy one of the finest pieces in the trumpet repertoire! Besides, the two numbers we’ll be looking at begin the longest continuous section of text taken from Scripture, as Handel and Jennens used five musical numbers to present 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, so it will make sense for me to comment on the entire passage together next time.

I’m also making another change to the pattern of this series, in that I’m deviating from the recording that I’ve used for the first 44 numbers from the oratorio. Overall, I think Trevor Pinnock conducting The English Concert & Choir is the best recording of Messiah that I’ve heard, but I’m using a different recording today for two reasons. First of all, this is a 9-minute bass aria, and I think the bass soloist is the weak link in the Pinnock recording. The other soloists are excellent, but I really don’t care much for John Tomlinson’s performance.

The second — and more important — reason is that I wanted you to be able to see one of the greatest living baroque trumpet players in action! There are not many people who specialize in performing on period instruments from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, but Crispian Steele-Perkins is quite possibly the best (Check out his website to see and hear the wide range of instruments he plays). In this recording, he is playing a baroque trumpet, which is what trumpet players were using in the mid-18th century when Messiah was written. You’ll notice it has no valves (they were a 19th century invention), but it does have two finger holes. Covering and uncovering them with the thumb and little finger (you’ll notice him doing this in the video) helps to fine tune the instrument, but the actual note changing is done entirely by changing the amount of air used and by adjusting the embouchure. This is VERY difficult, but he makes it look easy!

The bass soloist in this recording is Alastair Miles, who is also fantastic (much better than Tomlinson). This video is actually two separate numbers, but the first is only about thirty seconds long, and segues directly into the aria. Enjoy!

#45: Accompagnato (Bass)
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 — Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

#46: Air (Bass)
1 Corinthians 15:52-53 — The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.

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