We celebrated the birth of Christ by going with our kids to enjoy Handel’s Messiah performed by orchestra and choral in a beautiful old church with the look and feel of medieval Gothic architecture; fresh from 18th century England. We are surrounded by Christmas music from shops to churches, but as my daughter-in-law says, “it’s not Christmas until I have listened to Handel’s Messiah” and I quite agree. The music was exquisite, masterful and powerful praise to our Prince of Peace.
The music was created by George Frideric Handel and the words were selected from Holy Scripture by Charles Jennings. Jennings offered the libretto called Messiah and based on the birth and Passion of Christ, to Handel. Handel set to work on the libretto on August 22, 1741, completing the score on September 12, 1741. Time alone seems to elevate this to miracle status. It is also interesting to note that Handel in 1737 at the age of 52, suffered a stroke which left him with blurred vision and a paralyzed right arm, making it impossible for him to play the keyboard or conduct music. Definitely down on his luck, depressed, and in debt he gave up on his career in 1740.
“It was only shortly after these calamities in Handel’s life that he came across a libretto composed by Charles Jennings. Composed entirely of Scripture portions, mainly from the OT, Handel was deeply affected when he read this libretto. It was divided into three parts: 1) prophecies about the coming Messiah (largely drawing on Isaiah); 2) the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection of Christ; 3) the End times with Christ’s final victory over sin and death, largely based in the book of Revelation. Inspired, Handel decided he must compose an oratorio based on this libretto. The story of the composition of this most famous of all Christian musical works has been told variously. What we can say with certainty is that he composed the work in a short period of time during the summer of 1741, and when he got to the Hallelujah chorus, his assistant found him in tears saying “I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God.” (blog.beliefnet.com)
There are familiar phrases throughout Messiah which are based on well-known verses of Scripture in both OT and NT. Some of them are:
For unto Us a Child is born, Isaiah 9:6
Behold the Lamb of God, John 1:29
Hallelujah, Revelation 19:6
Glory to God, Luke 2:14
I’d say God had a big hand in the creation of this masterpiece. Handel was not at the beginning of his career, but at the end and living under difficult circumstances and yet he turned out this oratorio in about three weeks! When we get to heaven, surrounded by an awesome angel choir, we will no doubt have lots of new music to learn, but perhaps Handel’s Messiah will be transported to heaven where we will continue to enjoy its familiar refrains throughout the endless ages of eternity.