Erik Dippenaar and Handel’s Messiah - The Dublin Version

Erik Dippenaar and Handel’s Messiah - The Dublin Version

This coming Wednesday 4 December 2013, a special performance of Handel’s Messiah: The Dublin Version will be performed in Cape Town. spoke to the driving force behind the project, Erik Dippenaar, about the event and his love for early music.

It appears that there is not only one version of Handel’s popular Messiah. Please tell us more about the one you will be performing?

ED: Handel composed Messiah during August/September of 1741. At the end of that year he went to Dublin to give a series of concerts, held between December 1741 and February 1742. These concerts were so popular that a second series was arranged.  Although Messiah did not feature in any of these series, Handel began arrangements in March 1741 to give a charity concert in aid of prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary. This concert was scheduled for April and he intended to premiere Messiah then.

Because of the available instrumental forces and singers in Dublin, Handel had to revise the 1741 score for the first (Dublin) performance. It is this version that we will be performing. From 1743 (the first London performance) to 1754 Handel continued to revise and recompose Messiah in order to suit the requirements of particular singers – this was a common 18th century practice.

The Messiah audiences have a very specific expectation of a Messiah performance. What can they expect to hear and see on the night?

ED: First of all the instrumental and vocal forces will be much smaller than the usual performance tradition of Messiah today. So we have a small choir of professional singers and the solo singers sing in the choir as well. The smaller forces (10 singers and 10 instrumentalists) give the whole production a more flexible chamber music feel.

The instrumentalists will be performing on period instruments, and we will use both a chamber organ and harpsichord as keyboard continuo instruments (we know that Handel had his own chamber organ shipped to Dublin). I will be directing the performance from the harpsichord, but the smaller forces mean that no continuous conducting is necessary (continuous conducting is in any case a tradition that came into being during the nineteenth century and it is inappropriate for earlier repertoire). In addition, an organ concerto will also be included in this performance – we know that Handel played organ solos or concerti during the intervals of his oratorio performances.

We will only perform the first part of Messiah (that deals with the prediction by the Old Testament prophets of the Messiah’s coming and the Virgin Birth as well as the annunciation to the shepherds of the birth of Christ). In order to perform the whole Messiah (which has three parts) we would need two natural (baroque) trumpets at the historical pitch which we are performing at. This is my long term goal (and aim in terms of funding) – importing trumpets (and possibly trumpeters as well) so that we can do the complete Messiah.

Please tell us more about the collaboration between Camerata Tinta Barocca and the Cape Consort.

ED: This is a very exciting first-time collaboration between these two groups.  Camerata Tinta Barocca, which is an instrumental ensemble, is in its ninth year and has been making brave steps in converting to period instruments (the last three concerts of this year was performed on period instruments). The Cape Consort consists of singers plus continuo and has been following a historically informed approach since the beginning of the group. In this sense, it is an ideal collaboration because we could combine the strengths of each group. I’m very happy that the directors of both groups, Hans Huyssen (Cape Consort) and Quentin Crida (Camerata Tinta Barocca), were keen to collaborate. I work regularly for both of these ensembles so I felt I could act as a link between the two.\

As an award-winning musician, how did you get to choose early keyboard instruments as your instruments of choice?

ED: Since I first hear a period recording in my teens I was fascinated by the sound world of the Historically Informed Performance approach to music. But it wasn’t until I studied in London at the Royal College of Music that I could really specialise in early instruments. A whole world of sound possibilities opened up to me and it was a tremendous learning experience. Playing on original historical instruments teaches one a lot – it’s as if the instrument shows you how it should be played.

I once played a concert on a virginals dating from 1580 – it’s a wonderful idea that an instrument which was used 400 years ago can still be played and can still move people. It links one on a very basic human level to people of the past and that consistency (the fact that something which moved people 400 years ago still moves us) is comforting.

Now that I’ve moved back to South Africa after having lived and worked in the UK for six years, it has become an important goal for me to help establish a culture of period instrument playing and singing in South Africa. I work mostly with Camerata Tinta Barocca and The Cape Consort, as well as with Baroque 2000 in Durban. Apart from that I teach at the Historically Informed Performance course at UCT. This year was the first year of what is now an annual winter term course (June/July). Next year we have a line-up of teachers teaching string, woodwind and keyboard instruments as well as early singing plus theoretical subjects.

What about the early and Baroque music genres excite you as a performer?

ED: To me the most exciting thing about pre-nineteenth century music is the improvisational aspect – the fact that the score on the page is not the final “version” of the music – the performer has to complete the composition. This approach allows a type of freedom that I’m drawn to. I’m also fascinated by the rhetorical use of music – using music to move audiences in that same way that a speaker would. This conversational aspect of earlier repertoire makes playing chamber music especially rewarding, because playing with like-minded colleagues is like having a conversation with friends.

Concert Details:
Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 20h00
St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Green Point, Cape Town
Pre-concert talk at 19h15 by Erik Dippenaar
Tickets at the door: R120 (general admission), R90 (concessions), R50 (students) and R20 (scholars)

Photo by Suzette Vorster-Van Acker
Published 2 December 2013

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