Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Power of Handel's Messiah

A beautiful excerpt from Handel's Messiah, 'For Unto Us A Child Is Born', followed below by remarks on  Handel's life and career.

There is probably no better-known work of classical music in the English-speaking world than Handel’s Messiah. Written in London by George Frederic Handel in 1741, in the unbelievably short time of 24 days, this oratorio of chorus, vocal solos and orchestra has as its purpose the telling of the story of Jesus the Christ. Using passages from the Old and the New Testaments as text, Messiah is a profoundly Christian work of art, arguably the greatest Christian music ever composed.

Messiah consists of 53 separate pieces of music and text in three basic parts. Part one is the Christmas part, dealing with the Old Testament prophesies of Jesus’ coming and then the story of his birth.  Part two deals with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, ending with the resounding Hallelujah chorus. And Part Three deals with the promised return of Christ and the destiny of humanity to offer praise to Christ and the Father in heaven forever.

George Handel was born in 1685 in Germany, in the same year and same country as that other great Christian composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Handel moved to England in 1712, where he spent the rest of his life and became a British subject. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, the resting place of British kings and great scientists, artists and authors.

Handel himself conducted the first performance of Messiah in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742.  Because he was criticized at the time for charging admission to hear the Bible sung to music, from then on, his annual performances of Messiah were done for charitable purposes, primarily the support of London hospitals.

It is interesting that Handel's career up until 1740, at the age of 55, was primarily in the composition and presentation of mostly secular music, including 42 Italian opera.  Due however to financial problems and sickness, he turned to oratorios, most of which had a religious theme.  And how grateful I am for this change of focus, for we get to enjoy Messiah because of it.

In the above video clip, Sir Colin Davis conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and the Tenebrae choir performing Handel's Messiah. It was recorded in December 2006. The entire audio MP3 version of this recording can be purchased on Amazon for $14 here.

1 comment:

  1. Oddly enough, the first time I heard Handel's Messiah it was the 'Mormon Tabernacle Choir' version. I was mesmerized.