Composers Datebook®

Handel recycled by Zwilich (and himself)

Composers Datebook - April 13, 2024


One of the best-loved works of classical music, Handel’s oratorio Messiah, had its first performance on today’s date in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742. Handel wrote Messiah in a period of only four weeks, then put it aside until he received an invitation to present a new work in the Irish capital. Dublin gave Messiah an enthusiastic reception, but it took a few years before London recognized that Messiah was a masterpiece.

Baroque composers like Handel freely borrowed materials from previous works — or even other composers — to use in new ones. Among Handel’s own instrumental works, the Concerti Due Cori, for example, contain melodies familiar from Messiah.

American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich harks back to this baroque custom in her own Concerto Grosso 1985, in which she quotes directly from Handel’s Violin Sonata — which in turns quotes from no fewer than four of Handel’s own earlier compositions.

Born in Miami in 1939, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich studied at Juilliard with two noted American composers, Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter, and in 1983 became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for her Symphony No. 1.

Music Played in Today's Program

George Frederic Handel (1685-1759): Sinfoni from Messiah; Boston Baroque Orchestra; Martin Pearlman, conductor; Telarc 80348

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (b. 1939): Concerto Grosso 1985; New York Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta, conductor; New World 372

On This Day


  • 1810 - French composer Felicien David, in Cadenet, Vaucluse

  • 1816 - English composer Sir William Sterndale Bennett, in Sheffield

  • 1938 - American composer and pianist Frederic Rzewski, in Westfield, Massachusetts


  • 1756 - Burial date of German composer and keyboard virtuoso Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, 29, in Dresden

  • 1826 - German composer Franz Danzi, 62, in Schwetzingen

  • 1944 - French composer and pianist Cécile Chaminade, 86, in Monte Carlo


  • 1742 - Handel: oratorio, Messiah, in Dublin (Gregorian date: April 24)

  • 1789 - Mozart: Divertimento for string trio, in Dresden, by Anton Teiber (violin), Anton Kraft (cello), and the composer (viola)

  • 1943 - Randall Thompson: A Testament of Freedom for men's voices and piano, at the University of Virginia. The orchestral version of this work premiered in Boston on April 6, 1945.

  • 1952 - Morton Gould: Symphony No. 4 (West Point Symphony) for band, during the West Point Military Academy Sesquicentennial Celebration in West Point, New York, by the Academy Band, with the composer conducting

  • 1961 - Luigi Nono: opera Intolerance 1960, in Venice at Teatro La Fenice

  • 1992 - Schnittke: opera Life with an Idiot, in Amsterdam at the Dutch Opera

  • 1997 - Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna for chorus and chamber orchestra, at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Paul Salamunovich conducting

  • 2000 - Danielpour: Piano Trio (A Child's Reliquary), at Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa, by the Kalichstein-Robinson-Laredo Trio


  • 1823 - Franz Liszt, 11, performs at the Imperial Redoutensaal in Vienna. Legend has it Beethoven attended this performance and planted a kiss on the young performer’s forehead, but in fact Beethoven did not attend the concert. According to Liszt, the incident occurred a few days before at Beethoven's home, after Liszt had performed one of Beethoven's works. See Dec. 1, 1822, for Liszt's Vienna debut.

  • 1896 - The American Guild of Organists is founded in New York City

  • 1958 - American pianist Van Cliburn wins the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the first American to do so

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®