Christmas Music - The Story Behind Handel's Messiah

by Kristina Law | Dec 3, 2013 | Main | 0 Comments

Handel-Messiah

Christmas season is such a wonderful season of the year. One of the reasons why, is because of it's beautiful music. One of my long time favorite is Handel's Messiah by far. George Frideric Handel's Messiah was originally an Easter offering. Now, of course, Messiah is a fixture of the Christmas season.

Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible, and from the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. The text begins in Part I with prophecies by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds, the only "scene" taken from the Gospels. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the "Hallelujah" chorus. In Part III he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ's glorification in Heaven.

The music for Messiah was completed in 24 days of swift composition. Having received Jennens's text some time after 10 July 1741, Handel began work on it on 22 August. His records show that he had completed Part I in outline by 28 August, Part II by 6 September and Part III by 12 September, followed by two days of "filling up" to produce the finished work on 14 September. The autograph score's 259 pages show some signs of haste such as blots, scratchings-out, unfilled bars and other uncorrected errors, but according to the music scholar Richard Luckett the number of errors is remarkably small in a document of this length.

At the end of his manuscript Handel wrote the letters "SDG" — Soli Deo Gloria, "To God alone the glory". This inscription, taken with the speed of composition, has encouraged belief in the apocryphal story that Handel wrote the music in a fervour of divine inspiration in which, as he wrote the "Hallelujah" chorus, "he saw all heaven before him".

Handel's decision to give a season of concerts in Dublin in the winter of 1741–42 arose from an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire, then serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. A violinist friend of Handel's, Matthew Dubourg, was in Dublin as the Lord Lieutenant's bandmaster; he would look after the tour's orchestral requirements. In early March Handel began discussions with the appropriate committees for a charity concert, to be given in April, at which he intended to present Messiah. He sought and was given permission from St Patrick's and Christ Church cathedrals to use their choirs for this occasion. The three charities that were to benefit were prisoners' debt relief, the Mercer's Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary.

It burst onto the stage of Music Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The audience swelled to a record 700, so that the largest possible audience could be admitted to the concert, gentlemen were requested to remove their swords, and ladies were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The men and women in attendance sat mesmerized from the moment the tenor followed the mournful string overture with his piercing opening line: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." Soloists alternated with wave upon wave of chorus, until, near the midway point, the soloist intoned: "He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." So moved was the Rev. Patrick Delany that he leaped to his feet and cried out: "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!"

Handel's work has done more than just pleasing the ear. The takings amounted to around £400, providing about £127 to each of the three nominated charities and securing the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

By 1754 Handel was severely afflicted by the onset of blindness, and in 1755 he turned over the direction of the Messiah hospital performance to his pupil, J.C. Smith.[60] He apparently resumed his duties in 1757 and may have continued thereafter.[61] The final performance of the work at which Handel was present was at Covent Garden on 6 April 1759, eight days before his death.

Even though the Messiah is probably most recognized for the Hallelujah chorus, one of my favorite pieces is in part III, scene I called: "I know that my Redeemer liveth (soprano)" The text is simple and yet it is a profound testimony:

"I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day
upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall
I see God. (Job 19:25-26)
For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that
sleep. (I Corinthians 15:20)"

We invite you to watch "Music from Messiah" by Mormon Tabernacle Choir - 28 min. repertoire of well beloved pieces from The Messiah.

Follow Us

Bel Aire Reviews

READ OUR REVIEWS

Write For Us

WRITE FOR OUR BLOG

Download FREE E-book

Assisted Living Ebook