George Frideric Handel: Pifa

Messiah Part I


George Frideric Handel’s Messiah has remained one of the composer’s most beloved works. Incredibly, Handel completed this 260-page oratorio in just 24 days during the summer of 1741. The scriptural text was compiled by Charles Jennens, with the source being the King James Bible. The first performance of Messiah was on 13th April 1742, to celebrate Easter. 

Initially the oratorio garnered a lukewarm reception from audiences, however the work began to gain popularity over some years, with it now being the go-to work to perform during the Easter period. During this new Messiah exploration on Classicalexburns, blogs will be posted regularly to cover all of the pieces involved in making up this much-loved oratorio. 


The Music

Along with the Sinfony at the start of the oratorio, Pifa is one of only two orchestral works in the first part of the Messiah. This short pastoral interlude introduces the shepherds, with the title of the piece deriving from the shepherds who played in the streets of Rome at Christmas (‘pifferai’). The gentle swaying of the strings in 12/8 time creates a lullaby-like orchestral piece. Largely lower in dynamics, the soft touch of Pifa offers some slight relief after the excitement of For Unto Us A Child Is Born. The repetitive theme mimics that of a lullaby that would calm a child down, which leads to the delicate and quiet ending of Pifa. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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