9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


‘Mr Harris’s Score’ – a new look at the ‘Marsh/Matthews’ manuscript score of Handel’s ‘Messiah’, now in Archbishop Marsh’s Library, Dublin

Donald Burrows

John Matthews's manuscript score of Messiah was very thoroughly examined and described by Watkins Shaw in an article in Music & Letters in 1958, showing how Marsh had drawn on various sources at Salisbury, Winchester and Durham, including performing part-books. Marsh annotated his manuscript with the sources for the variant movements and readings that went to make up his eclectic score, which he must have compiled mainly between 1761 and 1765.

Among the sources that Marsh refers to in his manuscript is ‘Mr Harris’s score’, almost certainly a manuscript score that belonged to James Harris of Salisbury. Although Harris probably had a substantial music collection, little of this survives today, and no known Messiah manuscript can be identified with his ownership. It is not possible to reconstruct the music of the score from Marsh’s annotations, but enough can be known to form a general picture of the contents. These must have represented a version of Messiah that was based on the movements current around 1743, as indeed is true of many other early Messiah sources.

A new factor in the situation is the recent discovery of correspondence revealing that Harris borrowed Handel’s performing materials for Messiah between the composer’s London performances in 1743 and 1745, intending to perform the work at Salisbury. The Matthews score will be re-examined in the light of the possibility that Harris’s score was copied from, or amended to conform to, the performing parts that he borrowed from Handel. If this were the case, the Matthews score might preserve important information not only about variant settings, but about musical readings that were current in 1743 (affecting, for example, word-setting), and about instrumentation.

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Last updated on 11 April 2000 by Yo Tomita