|Georg Friedrich Handel|
by Georg Friedrich Händel
composed in 1741
performed in 1742
Georg Friedrich Händel is a transitional figure in the period between Baroque and Classical music. He continues to enjoy major league popularity, with something like 5000 listeners a week on Last FM(going back to 1741!) Handel shows an equal, long term level of popularity similar to Joseph Haydn, though both are dwarfed by subsquent Classical composer like Ludwig van Beethoven and Mozart.
Georg Friedrich Händel was also unusual because he achieved notoriety or "fame" through the public (or semi public/royal) performance, rather then through music publishing. Notably, Messiah was debuted in Dublin, not London. Composing in the mid 18th century, Georg Friedrich Händel worked in a field that included opera scores and theatrical performances.
Händel emerged from an Operatic background, but by 1710 he was working as the music guy for prince George of Hanover, Germany. Prince George of Hanover ended up King George of the United Kingdom, so that worked out well for Händel.
Messiah is, musically speaking, a choral work, and the treatment of Messiah by subsequent developments in chorus singing, namely the amplification of the size of the chorus, has not been kind to the original work. Originally performed by a chorus of close to 30 people in Dublin, Ireland, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir regularly uses a cast of hundreds for the same performance:
There is an "Elvis in Vegas" quality to Messiah in that regard, a taint on the status it continues to enjoy among a large Audience. A certain "chessiness" I suppose you would call it. In recent decades Händel has enjoyed a higher profile then Haydn, and that no doubt springs from the sheer joy that people experience from seeing a whole lot of people perform Messiah at Christmas time. Messiah was actually first performed in April, so its modern assignment to Christmas was itself a product of market forces.