Inside the Collection

Happy Anniversary Messiah!

Handel's Messiah sheet music
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The 13th April marks the anniversary of the first performance of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio, Messiah. This was premiered in Dublin on 13th April 1742. Now a 268th anniversary may seem a bit excessive to celebrate and some may even say that after the first 267, who’s counting. But it’s special for the Powerhouse Museum because we have a copy of Messiah in the hand of John Christopher Smith, Handel’s copyist, in the collection and we’ve recently put it on display in our musical instruments exhibition.

The copy was done during Handel’s lifetime and was one of three sets that were made. The section in the Museum’s collection is the second part of one of the sets and features the Hallelujah Chorus. On Handel’s death in 1759 it was given to Messiah’s librettist Charles Jennens. He bequeathed it to his cousin, the Earl of Aylesford, where it passed through the generations until it was finally sold in 1917. Soon after, it was bought by the publisher and Handel author Sir Newman Flower, who in turn gave it to the English contralto singer Phyllis Lett (Phyllis sung in several performances of Messiah), for a wedding present. Phyllis died in 1962 and it is uncertain what became of the manuscript until it was bought by collector and Museum benefactor, Mr EA Crome. It was acquired by the Powerhouse Museum in 1981.

Michael Lea
Curator, Music and Musical Instruments

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