Der Messias

Der Messias, K. 572, is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 1789 German-language version of Messiah, George Frideric Handel's 1741 oratorio. On the initiative of Gottfried van Swieten, Mozart adapted Handel's work for performances in Vienna.

Der Messias
Oratorio by George Frideric Handel, arranged by W. A. Mozart
Gottfried van Swieten, for whose Academies the arrangement was made
CatalogueK. 572
Year1789 (1789)
Texttranslation by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Christoph Daniel Ebeling
Based oncompilation of biblical texts by Charles Jennens
Movements38 in three parts
  • 2 sopranos
  • tenor
  • bass
  • SATB choir
  • orchestra

The libretto of Mozart's adaptation was largely based on Luther's translation of the Bible. Mozart re-orchestrated about three-fifths of Handel's composition, primarily providing additional parts for an extended section of wind instruments, which was called Harmonie at the time. In general, a half-century after the inception of the work, Mozart adapted an English-language work conceived for a baroque orchestra in a public venue, to accommodate the constraints of private performances and the musical tastes of Vienna.

Mozart's arrangement, first published in 1803, was instrumental in making Messiah Handel's most widely known oratorio. However, the adaptation has had few supporters amongst Mozart or Handel scholars.


Mozart first heard Handel's Messiah in London in 1764 or 1765, and then in Mannheim in 1777. The first performance, in English, in Germany was in 1772 in Hamburg.[1] Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the first to perform the oratorio in German: he presented it in 1775 in Hamburg, with a libretto translated by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Christoph Daniel Ebeling, followed by repeat performances in that city in 1777 and 1778.[2] In 1885, Johann Adam Hiller's arrangement of Messiah was performed by 302 vocalists and instrumentalists in Berlin.[3]

The score of Handel's Messiah was first published in London in 1767.[4] In 1789, at the instigation of Gottfried van Swieten, who had founded the music-loving Gesellschaft der Associierten (Society of Associated Cavaliers) to sponsor such concerts,[lower-alpha 1] Mozart arranged Handel's work to be performed for invited guests in the houses of Vienna's nobility, as he had arranged Acis and Galethea in 1788 and would, in 1790, arrange the Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (Cäcilienode) and Alexander's Feast (Alexander-Fest). His arrangement Der Messias was first performed on 6 March 1789 at Count Johann Esterházy's palace, with a repeat performance; performed in the residence of Johann Wenzel Paar; and performed twice, around Christmas that year, at the winter palace of Duke Schwarzenberg.[5] Mozart's arrangement was intended for these specific performances, and there was no plan to print it.[5] It was only published after his death.


Handel set his music to a libretto that Charles Jennens had compiled from the Bible (mostly the Old Testament).[6] Jennens commented that: "the Subject excells every other Subject. The Subject is Messiah ...".[7] Messiah differs from Handel's other oratorios in that it does not contain an encompassing narrative, instead offering contemplation on different aspects of the Christian Messiah.[6]

The libretto follows the liturgical year: Part I corresponding to Advent, Christmas, and the life of Jesus; Part II to Lent, Easter, the Ascension, and Pentecost; and Part III to the end of the church year—dealing with the end of time. The birth and death of Jesus are told in the words of the prophet Isaiah, the most prominent source of the libretto. The only true "scene" of the oratorio is the Annunciation to the shepherds which is taken from the Gospel of Luke. The imagery of shepherd and lamb features prominently in many movements.

Mozart set his arrangement to a German translation that Klopstock and Ebeling had written for Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's version in Hamburg.[2] The German text stays close to the Luther Bible translation.[8]


For the music, Handel used the same devices as in his operas and other oratorios: choral and solo singing. The solos are typically a combination of recitative and aria. His orchestra is small: oboes; strings; and basso continuo of harpsichord, violoncello, violone, and bassoon. Two trumpets and timpani highlight selected movements, such as the Hallelujah Chorus. Handel uses four voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor and bass in the solo and choral movements. Only once is the chorus divided in an upper chorus and a lower chorus, it is SATB otherwise. Handel uses both polyphonic and homophonic settings to illustrate the text. He often stresses a word by extended coloraturas, especially in several movements that are parodies of music composed earlier on Italian texts. He uses a cantus firmus, on long repeated notes especially, to illustrate God's majesty when he speaks. Even polyphonic movements typically end on a dramatic long musical rest, followed by a broad homophonic conclusion.[9]

Mozart used the symphonic orchestra of his time, and used wind instruments (Harmonie), often to add a specific color to a movement. As in his Great Mass in C minor, Mozart assigned two soprano soloists, instead of Handel's soprano and alto; sometimes assigned choral parts to the soloists; and changed the vocal range for some recitatives and arias. He also shortened the music by cutting out a few numbers and shortening single movements: for example, using only the first section of a da capo aria.[5] At Van Swieten's request, he wrote a new recitative.[10]

Mozart introduced the clarinet, and he used the wind instruments to establish a mood.[5] In choral movements, he assigned a wind instrument to play colla parte with the soprano, and a choir of three trombones to reinforce alto, tenor, and bass. The trumpet became an instrument among others, and no longer a symbol of secular or divine authority,[5] possibly because the art of playing it had deteriorated.[5] Mozart assigned the horn to play in the aria "Sie schallt, die Posaun'" ("The trumpet shall sound"), which Handel had set for trumpet. Mozart scored for harpsichord instead of organ, because the music was performed in private homes, where no organ was available.[5]


Mozart used Italian terminology, for example Overtura for the overture, Recitativo for secco recitatives (i.e. accompanied exclusively by thorough bass), recitativo accompagnato ed aria for an accompanied recitative followed by an aria (treated as one movement and the standard for solo movements), and Coro for choral movements. Only once is the chorus divided in an upper chorus and a lower chorus; it is four-part otherwise.[5]

Legend to the table
column content
1 # movement number, according to the Bärenreiter critical edition of 1989
2 Title Name of the movement in Mozart's adaptation
3 V voice parts: soprano I/II (s1/s2), tenor (t) and bass (b) soloists; Quartet of soloists (q); SATB choir parts.
4 T type: Recitative (R), secco (s) or accompagnato (a); Aria (A); Duet (D); Chorus (C); Orchestral (Or)
5 F movement numbering by Robert Franz (1884)[8]
6 English English title of the movement[4]
7 Bible Biblical origin of the text
Structure of Mozart's Der Messias, compared to Handel's Messiah
# Title V T F English Bible
I Parte prima (V) (T) I ( Go to top of table )
01 Overtura Or O Sinfony
02 Tröstet Zion! t Ra 01 Comfort ye Isaiah 40:1-4
Alle Tale macht hoch A 02 Every valley
03 Denn die Herrlichkeit Gottes SATB C 03 And the glory of the Lord Isaiah 40:5
04 So spricht der Herr b Ra 04 Thus saith the Lord Haggai 2:6–7
Malachi 3:1-2
Doch wer mag ertragen A 05 But who may abide
05 Und er wird reinigen qSATB C 06 And He shall purify Malachi 3:3
Denn sieh! Eine Jungfrau wird schwanger s2 Rs 07 Behold, a virgin shall conceive Isaiah 7:14
Matthew 1:23
06 O du, die Wonne verkündet in Zion s2 A 08 O Thou that tellest good tidings to Zion Isaiah 40:9
Isaiah 60:1
07 Blick auf! Nacht bedeckt das Erdreich b Ra 10 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth Isaiah 60:2–3
Das Volk, das im Dunkeln wandelt A 11 The people that walked in darkness Isaiah 9:2
08 Uns ist zum Heil ein Kind geboren qSATB C 12 For unto us a Child is born Isaiah 9:6
09 Pifa Or 13 Pifa
Es waren Hirten beisammen auf dem Felde s2 Rs 14 There were shepherds abiding in the field Luke 2:8
10 Und sieh, der Engel des Herrn Ra And lo! the angel of the Lord Luke 2:9
Und der Engel sprach zu ihnen Rs And the angel said unto them Luke 2:10-11
11 Und alsobald war da bei dem Engel Ra And suddenly there was with the angel Luke 2:13-14
12 Ehre sei Gott SATB C 15 Glory to God
13 Erwach' zu Liedern der Wonne t A 16 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion Zechariah 9:9–10
Dann tut das Auge des Blinden s1 Rs 17 Then shall the eyes of the blind Isaiah 35:5–6
14 Er weidet seine Herde s1 A 18 He shall feed His flock Isaiah 40:11
Kommt her zu ihm Come unto Him Matthew 11:28–29
15 Sein Joch ist sanft qSATB C 19 His yoke is easy Matthew 11:30
II Parte seconda (V) (T) II ( Go to top of table )
16 Kommt her und seht das Lamm SATB C 20 Behold the Lamb of God John 1:29
17 Er ward verschmähet s2 A 21 He was despised Isaiah 53:3
Isaiah 50:6
18 Wahrlich, wahrlich! SATB C 22 Surely He hath borne our griefs Isaiah 53:4
19 Durch seine Wunden sind wir geheilt SATB C 23 And with His stripes we are healed Isaiah 53:5
20 Wie Schafe gehn SATB C 24 All we like sheep Isaiah 53:6
21 Und alle, die ihn seh'n s1 Ra 25 All they that see Him Psalms 22:8
22 Er trauete Gott SATB C 26 He trusted in God Psalms 22:9
23 Die Schmach bricht ihm sein Herz s2 Ra 27 Thy rebuke hath broken His heart Psalms 69:20
Schau hin und sieh! A 28 Behold and see Lamentations 1:12
24 Er ist dahin aus dem Lande s1 Ra 29 He was cut off Isaiah 53:8
Doch Du ließest ihn im Grabe nicht A 30 But Thou didst not leave his soul in hell Psalms 16:10
25 Machet das Tor weit SSATB C 31 Lift up your heads Psalms 24:7–10
Zu welchem von den Engeln s1 Rs 32 Unto which of the angels Hebrews 1:5
(omitted in K. 572 version) 33 Let all the angels of God Hebrews 1:6
34 Thou art gone up on high Psalms 68:18
26 Der Herr gab das Wort SATB C 35 The Lord gave the word Psalms 68:12
27 Wie lieblich ist der Boten Schritt s1 A 36 How beautiful are the feet of them Isaiah 52:7
Romans 10:15
28 Ihr Schall ging aus SATB C 37 Their sound is gone out Romans 10:18
Psalms 19:4
29 Warum entbrennen die Heiden b A 38 Why do the nations so furiously rage Psalms 2:1–2
30 Brecht entzwei die Ketten alle SATB C 39 Let us break their bonds Psalms 2:3
Der da wohnet im Himmel t Rs 40 He that dwelleth in heaven Psalms 2:4
31 Du zerschlägst sie t A 41 Thou shalt break them Psalms 2:9
32 Halleluja SATB C 42 Hallelujah Revelation 19:6,16
Revelation 11:15
III Parte terza (V) (T) III ( Go to top of table )
33 Ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser lebt s1 A 43 I know that my Redeemer liveth Job 19:25–26
34 Wie durch einen der Tod SATB Cx4 44 Since by man came death 1 Corinthians 15:21–22
35 Merkt auf! b Ra 45 Behold, I tell you a mystery 1 Corinthians 15:51–53
Sie erschallt, die Posaune A 46 The trumpet shall sound
Dann wird erfüllt s2 Rs 47 Then shall be brought to pass 1 Corinthians 15:54–56
36 O Tod, wo ist dein Pfeil s2/t D 48 O death, where is thy sting
37 Doch Dank sei Dir Gott SATB C 49 But thanks be to God 1 Corinthians 15:57
Wenn Gott ist für uns s1 Ra 50 If God be for us Romans 8:31,33–34
38 Würdig ist das Lamm SATB C 51 Worthy is the Lamb Revelation 5:12–13
Amen 52 Amen Revelation 5:14

Parte prima




Isaiah, a new Exodus


Haggai, splendor of the templeMalachi, the coming messengerIsaiah, virgin birth, quoted by Matthew


Isaiah 40:9Isaiah 60:1


Isaiah 60:2–3Isaiah 9:2


Isaiah 9:6


PifaGospel of LukeAnnunciation to the shepherds


Zechariah, God's providential dealingsIsaiah, oracle of salvation for Israel


Isaiah, the ShepherdMatthew, praise of the Father


Matthew 11:30

Parte seconda


Testimony of John the Baptist


Songs of the suffering servant 4, 3Man of Sorrows, 4 continued — Psalms 22:8–9


Psalm 69Book of Lamentations


Man of SorrowsPsalm 16


Psalm 24Epistle to the Hebrews

Omitted movements

Two movements regarding Ascension are omitted in Mozart's version:[8]

  • Hebrews 1:6: "Let all the angels of God" (choral movement; translated as "Lobsingt den Ewigen Sohn" in the 1884 mixed Handel/Mozart version by Robert Franz, pp. 201–204)
  • Psalms 68:18: "Thou art gone up on high" (bass aria; translated as "Du führest in die Höh'" in the 1884 version by Robert Franz, pp. 205–209)


Psalms 68:11


Isaiah 52:7Romans 10:15


Psalm 19, The glory of GodEpistle to the Romans


Psalm 2


Hallelujah: Book of Revelation

Parte terza


Book of Job, Messianic anticipation


Paul on the Resurrection of the dead


Resurrection of the bodyPaul's Assurance of salvation


The creatures in heaven give praiseAmen


Mozart's version of Handel's Messiah was first published in 1803, edited by Johann Adam Hiller.[3] It was instrumental in making Messiah Handel's most widely known oratorio.[1] In 1884, Robert Franz published a mixed German-and-English version of Messiah, based on Handel's original, Mozart's arrangement, and his own amendments. He tried to purge the score of Hiller's "unallowable" additions, in which he was helped by having access to Hiller's manuscript.[8] However, few scholars of either Mozart or Handel's music have been supporters of Franz's version.[4]


Recordings of Mozart's adaptation of Handel's Messiah
Rec. Conductor / Orchestra / Choir
Soprano I / Soprano II / Tenor / Bass ; (language)
liner notes
1974 Mackerras / ORF Symphony Orchestra / ORF Choir
Mathis / Finnilä / Schreier / Adam ; (in German)
DG 427 173-2 (2 CD box)[3]
1988 Mackerras / RPO / Huddersfield Choral Society
Lott / Palmer / Langridge / Lloyd ; (in English)
RCA 77862RC (2 CD box)[3]
1991 Rilling / Bach-Collegium Stuttgart / Gächinger Kantorei
Brown / Kallisch / Saccà / Miles ; (in German)
Hänssler 98.975 (2 CD box)


  1. Translation from Timothy Bell's English rendering (1990) of Braunbehrens's Mozart biography. Deutsch (1965, 330) translates it as "Society of Noblemen".


  1. Bernhard Schmidt. "2.4.3. Anmerkungen zur Berliner Händelpflege und Rezeptionsgeschichte Des Messias", pp. 133ff in Lied, Kirchenmusik, Predigt im Festgottesdienst Friedrich Schleiermachers: zur Rekonstruktion seiner liturgischen Praxis. Walter de Gruyter, 2002. ISBN 3110170639 (in German)
  2. Traber, Habakuk (2012). "Handel: Messiah" (PDF) (in German). NDR. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  3. Towe, Teri (1996). "George Frideric Handel: Messiah - Arranged by Mozart". Classical Net. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  4. David, Schildkret (1995). "On Mozart Contemplating a Work of Handel: Mozart's arrangement of Messiah". In Mathiesen, Thomas J.; Rivera, Benito V. (eds.). Festa Musicologica: Essays in Honor of George J. Buelow. Pendragon Press. pp. 129–146. ISBN 9780945193708.
  5. Holschneider, Andreas (1999). Handel: Messiah (in German). Bärenreiter. ISMN 979-0-006-449897.
  6. Block, Daniel I. (2001). "Handel's Messiah: Biblical and Theological Perspectives" (PDF). Didaskalia. 12 (2). Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  7. Heighes, Simon (1997). "George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) / Messiah Simon Heighes, for The Sixteen recording, Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder". Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  8. Franz, Robert, ed. (1884). Der Messias: Oratorium von G. F. Händel – Unter Zugrundelegung der Mozart'schen Partitur, mit den nöthigen Erganzungen. Leipzig: Kistner. pp. I–V ("Preface"), and table of contents – unless otherwise specified.
  9. Burrows, Donald (1991). Handel: Messiah. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-37620-4.
  10. Steinberg, Michael (2008). Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide. Oxford University Press. pp. 150–154. ISBN 9780199712625.


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