How to obtain good orchestral accompaniments for concerts is always a problem for amateur choirs with limited funds. In its early days, the Oxford Harmonic Society, as it was named from June 1924, often had to make use of small groups of local amateurs or just use piano or organ accompaniment. But on several occasions the choir was able to sing with the well-known London professional symphony orchestras.Continue Reading
Oxford Harmonic Society put on its first peacetime performance of Messiah in November 1945. Isobel Baillie, who had been highly praised in the first 1943 performance (see our May post), did not take part, but she was to feature in nine further performances until 1955, cementing the association with the Society begun in 1932 (see our April post). She almost always got very good reviews:
The better known arias met with a deeply sympathetic response from the audience, especially “I know that my Redeemer liveth” beautifully given by Miss Baillie. (November 1949)
Isobel Baillie demonstrated once more how easily and delightfully she masters the soprano part. (December 1949)Continue Reading
After the unexpected and overwhelming success of the Harmonic’s first performance of Messiah in 1943 it soon became an annual event for the choir and ‘an Oxford “occasion” for which the Society was best known’. The 1943 performances were in Lent but thereafter it was usually performed in the run-up to Christmas in the Town Hall on Sunday afternoons with ‘Tea and Refreshments obtainable in the long interval’.
After the performances of the Dublin version of Messiah in 1943 (see our previous post), the choir’s conductor George Thewlis kept up a similar approach to performing the work. In his manuscript list of the choir’s performances (now in the Bodleian) he wrote under the heading of the 1946 Messiah: ‘These performances of ‘Messiah’ were complete ones with the original Handel accompaniments.’ It was much harder in the 1940s and 50s to put on such performances, as the readily-available accurate scores that we enjoy today by Watkins Shaw and others lay in the future, and far less was known about all the different manuscript sources and the complex composition history of the work. We don’t know exactly how Thewlis coped with the problems of editing and copying for his performances, but we do know about one source that he employed. From 1954 to 1960, the Messiah programmes contained a note by him, stating that the performance was based on a manuscript which he owned:
This … manuscript came into my possession about 1940, and the performance to-day is edited from it. The date of completion of the MS. is 1766, one year before the first full score was printed. It contains all the alterations and additions made by Handel between his first performance in 1742 and the printing of the full score after his death, and so may be considered the final draft of the work.
Thewlis states that this manuscript ‘was written by Thomas Harris, uncle of the first Lord Malmesbury.’Continue Reading