"Messiah" by George Frederic Handel was one of music's first smash hits, and it retains that status nearly three centuries after its first performance.
Composers of successful operas create music that elucidates themes and emotions that are often rather poorly served by texts and plots.
The indifferent dialogue and language of many operas would not hold an audience in thrall for long without the melody and instrumental colour that brings them to life.
As Handel embarked on "Messiah", a task which was to take him just three weeks, his experience as an opera composer would have provided a rich seam on which to draw.
With words taken from the King James Bible, Handel was working with magnificent texts.
The music has extraordinary variety and emotional range: it consoles ('Comfort ye, my people), it shocks ('Thou shalt break them in pieces'), it dances ('Rejoice greatly'), it affirms (in the 8-minute final 'Amen' chorus), and it exults ('Hallelujah' – of course!).
The orchestral overture has its stylistic origins in France. It is cosmopolitan yet coherent, demanding yet accessible, and elevating yet entertaining. Therein lies the secret to the enduring popularity of 'Messiah': it delivers its weighty messages with beguiling beauty and style.
During the last decade, the choir of Lincoln Cathedral has established itself as one of the successes of English cathedral music. Their performance of Handel's Messiah at 7.30pm on November 24, at Lincoln Cathedral marks the latest waypoint in that journey.