Mr. Handel: A German, and a Genius! Irish Baroque Orchestra CEO Aliye Cornish introduces the IBO's forthcoming Dublin HandelFest, a new festival which runs from August 20th - 22nd.

When we think of Handel's connection to Dublin today, it is synonymous with one word: Messiah!

The discerning Dublin audiences of 1742 were so enthused by the first performance of the work that a repeat airing had to be swiftly arranged for a couple of weeks later. The instruction to audiences for women to come without their hoops and men to come without their swords shows how much in demand Handel’s music was at the time, as they crammed into the Music Hall on Fishamble Street to enjoy it.

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Artistic Director Peter Whelan and soprano Julia Doyle talk to RTÉ Arena

However, it’s fair to say that there is a wealth of additional stories and music which builds a fuller picture of this episode in Handel’s life, and shows how the city played a pivotal role in changing his fortunes.

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Watch: Irish Baroque Orchestra perform Handel's Messiah

Handel’s trip to Dublin in 1741 came after a period of ill-health and financial difficulty in London, and was intended as a chance for rejuvenation. His reputation preceded him and, before he could even retrieve his baggage on setting foot in the country, he was whisked away to experience a level of hospitality so life-threateningly generous that he endured a small stroke. Happily his host, the Surgeon General, was on hand to provide treatment and evidently he recovered, remarking in a letter to his friend Charles Jennens (librettist of Messiah) that, "the Politeness of this generous Nation cannot be unknown to you, so I let you judge of the satisfaction that I enjoy, passing my time with Honour, Profit and Pleasure".

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Watch: IBO Artistic Director Peter Whelan and CEO Aliye Cornish chat about Handel

It was a colourful start to a stay that would last around 8 months and provide a period of intense creative rehabilitation. He took lodgings on Abbey Street and was a generous host to all those passing by with an interest in music. The cultural atmosphere of the time must have been intoxicating, with popular enterprises such as the Crow Street Musick Hall, Theatre Royal at Smock Alley, Aungier Street Theatre and Dublin Castle all jostling for audience attention. It was at the Great Music Hall on Fishamble Street where various performances of his works took place as part of a subscription series. Enraptured audiences were treated to Acis & Galatea, L’Allegro, Ode for St Cecilia’s Day and many others.

Handel reports in the same letter to Charles Jennens that:

"The nobility did me the honour to make amongst themselves a subscription for six Nights, which did fill a Room for six hundred Persons, so that I needed not sell one single ticket at the Door, and without Vanity the Performance was received with a general Approbation... As for the Instruments, they are really excellent, Mr. Dubourgh being at the Head of them - and the Musick sounds delightfully in this charming Room, which puts me in such Spirits (and my health being so good) that I exert myself on my Organ with more than usual success."

Fishamble Street Music Hall continued to resound with performances of Handel’s works for many years after his visit, and the oratorio Judas Maccabeus was performed there for the first time in 1748.

Irish Baroque Orchestra CEO Aliye Cornish (Pic: Miriam Kaczor)

During this period in Dublin Handel’s health, fortune and reputation all turned a corner, and he left a legacy for us to explore and celebrate today. With the founding of the Dublin HandelFest, the Irish Baroque Orchestra intends to champion this chapter in Ireland’s music history, guided by the research of our Artistic Director Peter Whelan. This fully-digital festival offers the opportunity to hear Acis & Galatea live-streamed from St Patrick’s Hall at Dublin Castle and a harpsichord recital by Malcolm Proud, filmed in the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle, placing Handel among his contemporaries.

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Two of Handel’s Op.6 Concerti Grossi come under the spotlight courtesy of Iverni Baroque Ensemble and the Irish Youth Baroque Orchestra as part of our Young Artists Platform, highlighting the high level of talent among the country’s emerging musicians. Artistic Director Peter Whelan also takes audiences on a free digital walking tour of the city, to build a picture of Dublin as Handel would have known it.

There are many stories to tell, and a wealth of music to be enjoyed. Like Handel himself, our door is open to all those with an interest.

The Irish Baroque Orchestra's Dublin HandelFest runs from August 20th - 22nd - find out more here.