By Davis Bitton
Meridian Magazine

How many of us realize that a complete performance of "Messiah" by George Frederick Handel took place in Salt Lake City as early as 1875? This was less than thirty years after the original pioneers entered the Valley. Leading the orchestra and choir was 35-year-old George Careless.

A well trained musician from London, Careless had studied at the Royal Academy of Music and performed under the batons of the most celebrated conductors.

At age twenty-five, he left all that behind and immigrated to Utah, hoping to make a contribution in his chosen field of music.

When the ship's captain asked him to compose a special number for the docking in New York, Careless was handicapped. His music and music paper were packed in his luggage. But he used a piece of ordinary writing paper, drew the staff lines on it, and, seated at an empty barrel on the ship, wrote out the now familiar tune for Parley P. Pratt's "The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee."

As director of the Salt Lake Theatre orchestra, Careless promptly raised its standards, and went on to produce a series of musical plays - operas or operettas. For "Aladdin", for example, he composed more than forty numbers, including duets, choruses, and solos or arias. All of this is even more impressive when we realize that the music was written by hand and copied by hand for the different instrumentalists and singers.

Brigham Young once told George that he preferred soft, peaceful music. It reminded him of angels.

George Careless responded: "Well, President Young, you wouldn't want a straight diet of honey, would you? Some of our hymns require stirring music. But whenever you want anything different from what we are about to sing, you need only to say so."

President Young patted Careless on the shoulder and said, "Go on, my boy, you're all right."

The decision to perform the oratorio "Messiah" in 1875 was not one to take lightly. It would tax the musical resources of the community. With their different educational levels and musical backgrounds, would the people muster an audience able to appreciate it?

Undaunted, George Careless organized both orchestra and chorus, selected the soloists, including his talented wife Lavinia, and then scheduled a series of rehearsals.

Not satisfied with mediocrity, he drilled them and drilled them. Finally the great day arrived and music-lovers in Salt Lake City were able to hear the magnificent oratorio.

One critic recognized its significance as follows:
The performance of "Messiah" in Salt Lake City may fitly be considered as one of the capital events in the musical history of America.

There are only a few cities, either in England or America, where "Messiah" can be executed by their local philharmonic societies, and even when given in London itself, the principal vocalists and instrumentalists of all England are sometimes combined to render the oratorio in its full capacity.

And even with such performers it requires the highest class audience to fully appreciate such music; so that if we can say that Salt Lake City is up to the standard of "Messiah" (which is too much to affirm in the supreme sense at the present) we substantially affirm that Salt Lake City is one of the greatest musical cities of the world.
At least the Latter-day Saints were trying. And the production had the full support of Brigham Young. When Brigham attended one of the rehearsals, his lively intelligence and interest in music led him to ask conductor Careless to explain the counterpoint of the "Hallelujah Chorus."

Careless was delighted to point out the different parts, the changes of keys, the repetition and interweaving of the melody line.

At the end of this short music lesson, Brigham Young exclaimed admiringly, "And the choir followed every motion of your stick."

At the First Presidency's Christmas devotional this year, the Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square rendered a familiar number from Handel's "Messiah": "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given . . ."

The overtones of memory reverberate as our mind goes back to 1875, when the same number was heard. We think of the harmony and unity of the Church under inspired leadership. And we think of the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel. Hallelujah!

(edited by David Van Alstyne)

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