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