In April 1742, musical composer George Frideric Handel finished work on his oratorio "The Messiah."
Two-hundred seventy years later, Phil Witzig, Morton Community Chorus director, and the chorus will perform a rendering of Handel's composition at 2 p.m. Dec. 2 at Grace Church, 1325 E. Jefferson, Morton. Witzig said an oratorio is an opera with no acting.
A three part performance, "The Messiah" introduces a variety of Bible verses from the Old and New Testaments.
"He was handed those Bible verses put together in that form," Witzig said. "And he was so moved when he read those in order that, according to many historical accounts, he began immediately composing it in his head."
The first part gives a musical account of the anticipation of the coming of Christ. Handel used verses like Isaiah 40:103 and Malachi 3:3 as inspiration for part one.
The chorus will perform a one hour and 45 minute version of the oratorio. Some of the songs included in this shortened performance include the "Amen" chorus, found in part three of the "Messiah;" 12 recitatives; and many Bible verses from Isaiah.
"Recitatives are almost a singy, spoken type," Witzig said. "They're not really a fully developed melody."
Witzig and the chorus continue to practice at 7 p.m. Mondays at Grace Church. According to Witzig, the most difficult part of the oratorio to perfect is the final "Amen" chorus.
"It's kind of a Mount Everest of choral numbers," he said.
The polyphonous nature of the chorus makes the performance difficult.
"The melody is found in every single part," Witzig said. "Normally, a melody is done by a soprano. And the alto and tenor and bass are just supporting, chordwise, the top melody.
"The "Amen" chorus is just insane," Witzig said. "You got basses coming, then altos and then they stop. It's just this unbelievable switching, and coming and going."
On the other hand, Witzig finds the "Glory to God" chorus is the easiest. Melismas, multiple notes on the same vowel, are not included in the chorus. Witzig said hitting those multiple notes can pose a challenge.
Witzig described the overall challenge of directing as inconsistent with what he dealt with in the past. He said the difficulty is that, being a tenor, he hears the tenors better than the other pitches during practice.
"I've directed a number of different choirs throughout the years, but I've got to say, this is much different," Witzig said.
Witzig's singing background includes a little bit of singing in college and when he first married. He also performed on and off in the Morton Community Chorus, estimating that he did approximately 10 performances.
"A while back I started holding on to the programs," he said. "I have about 10 or 12 of those."
The easiest part of Witzig's job as director is the fact that Handel did not split the pitches any more than the basics.
"Every song is pretty much bass, tenor, alto, soprano," Witzig said. "If you look at a lot of classical music, it's not uncommon to have bass split two ways and tenor split two ways," Witzig said. "And same with alto and soprano."
When Witzig said split two ways, he meant there could be a tenor 1 and tenor 2, meaning the tenor 1 and 2 would be slightly different pitches.
The chorus consists of approximately 75 members. They come from a variety of locations in the surrounding area, including Eureka, Morton, Tremont and Washington.
Witzig said the costumes will consist of basic formal wear. The concert will consist of approximately half of the Bible verses contained in the full oratorio.
The concert is free and open to the public. For more information, go to http://pjw.cc or call 263-0152.