Handel’s Messiah in Bismarck
On this date in 1930, Bismarck was busy preparing for the town’s first-ever presentation of Handel's "Messiah." Clarion Larsen, director of the production, believed the production would help inspire the community. Larsen noted that the youth in Bismarck showed an interest in studying music, but the adults, while happy to put forward their progeny for this, did not seem to take part themselves.
Larsen said: "Adults of the community realize the advantage of giving their children a musical education, but seem to be missing, at least in part, the real pleasure which they could derive by participating in musical affairs themselves."
The performance of "Messiah" was slightly scaled back, with some portions cut. It would take an hour and a half. Fifty-nine individuals would participate – 20 of these comprising the orchestra, a majority in the chorus, and a handful of soloists, featuring voices from Bismarck, Valley City, and Jamestown. While a large number of the singers came from the church choir at Trinity Lutheran church, other churches and organizations were also represented.
The first performance of "Messiah" in Bismarck on December 14th marked the first time that anything of similar size and style had been performed in the capital city. Though the evening was cold, people poured into the City Auditorium (today known as the Belle Mehus) ‘til there was only standing room available. And not all of the audience was at the auditorium, since it was also carried by local radio station KFYR, allowing families in the region to listen and enjoy.
Handel’s famous oratorio had been played all over the world since it first debuted in Dublin for Easter in 1742. And Bismarck was not alone or even first in the state to present it in North Dakota. Minot had performed it the year before.
But that 1930 performance in Bismarck kicked off a well-loved tradition, and it did indeed did bring musical interest to the community. This year’s performance was the 90th, marking a historic and well-loved start to Bismarck’s holiday season.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
The Bismarck Tribune, December 12, 1930, p2
The Bismarck Tribune, December 15, 1930, p3
The Bismarck Tribune, November 22, 1930, p5