The establishment of a musical tradition : meaning, value and social process in the South African history of Handel's Messiah.
Handel's Messiah occupies a unique position in the musical life of South Africa. No item from the canon of 'classical' European choral music has been performed more often, over a longer period of time, and in a wider range of social contexts. This thesis seeks to answer two broad and interrelated questions: what were the social processes which brought this situation about; and how were perceptions of Messiah's meaning affected by its performance in social contexts markedly different from those of its origins? I concentrate on the two South African choral traditions for which Messiah has been central- those of the 'English' and 'African' communities - and on the period from the first documented performance of any item from Messiah until the emergence of a pattern of annual performances, which I take as a significant indicator of the historical moment at which the music could be regarded as firmly established in its new context. The history of Messiah's performance and reception in South Africa is traced using previous research on South African musical history and my own archival research and interviews. Following the broad outline of 'depth hermeneutics' proposed by John Thompson, I regard performances of Messiah as symbolic forms in structured contexts, and I interpret them through an analysis of relevant aspects of Jennens's libretto and Handel's music, of the discourse that surrounded the performances (where examples of this have survived), and of the social contexts and processes in which the performances were embedded. In examining the interactions of these different aspects, I draw on a variety of theoretical and methodological strands within musicology, cultural studies, and South African historical research. The cultural value accorded to Messiah emerges as a central theme. As a form of symbolic capital highly valued by dominant groups (the 'establishment') in the relevant South African contexts, it became an indicator of 'legitimate' identity and therefore of status. For both the English settlers and the emerging African elite (the primary agents in the establishment of Messiah in South Africa), it could represent the cultures in relation to which they defined themselves, towards which they aspired and within which they sought recognition: respectively, those of the metropole and of 'Western Christian civilization'. In political terms, this had the potential both to reinforce existing patterns of domination and to challenge them. Examples are given of the ways in which, at different moments in its South African history, Messiah was mobilized to support or to subvert an established political order, as a result of the specific meanings that it was understood to convey.