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Harvard University

First Nights - Handel's Messiah and Baroque Oratorio

Harvard University via edX


While Italian opera set the standard in the Baroque era, German composer George Frederic Handel quickly gained popularity for his oratorios, which put operatic techniques to work in the service of sacred music. Handel's Messiah premiered in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and remains popular to this day. Harvard's Thomas Forrest Kelly (Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music) guides learners through Messiah's musical highlights, while detailing Handel's composition process, the preparations and rehearsals, and the premiere performance.

Learners in this module of First Nights need not have any prior musical experience. In this unit, you will learn the basics of musical form and analysis, the genres and styles used in Messiah , the circumstances of its first performance, and its subsequent history.

Additional First Nights Modules:
Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and the Birth of Opera
Handel's Messiah and Baroque Oratorio
Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony"
Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and Program Music in the 19th Century
Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring: Modernism, Ballet, and Riots

Taught by

Thomas Forrest Kelly


5.0 rating, based on 4 Class Central reviews

5 rating at edX based on 7 ratings

Start your review of First Nights - Handel's Messiah and Baroque Oratorio

  • I loved this course - I just happened to see it mentioned on Twitter, a few weeks before Christmas, and it made me very happy at a time when there wasn't much to be happy about.

    It's a fairly easy course. There's no heavy-duty music theory; the explanations using simple diagrams are accessible to anyone, and truly enhanced my understanding of the music. Prof. Kelly is just charming, and conveys his love of music. Part of the material is also the history of the piece, and that turned out to be just as interesting as the exploration of the musical structure.

    FMI see my personal blog post at
  • As an excerpt of a review of Messiah's premiere says - "conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear" - this course does the same. I was curious at first to see what it offers, since 'For unto us' is one of my dearest classical pieces. Professor Kelly's ease of explaining the most complex structures combined with a wealth of information about cultural and historical context of that day, full with interesting trivia and scholar research, makes this course a wonderful contribution to the world of MOOCs. I can't wait for the other ones planned - a strong recommendation for everybody.
  • Monika Kundra

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