<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=179877192967532&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Clapham Blog

Handel's Messiah: The Consequences of an Idea

Posted by Bartholomew Hall on Oct 18, 2019 9:34:12 AM

"I did see all heaven before me and the great God himself..."

 George Frideric Handel

George Friderick Handel

The story of the Messiah by George Frideric Handel is drawn from numerous strands that intertwine together to bring the Word through music to millions every year.

Handel was born in 1685, the same year as Bach. Bach knew of Handel and enjoyed his music. Although these two contemporaries were born only 80 miles apart, and Bach earnestly wanted to meet Handle, they never met in person. Bach traveled to Halle, Handel's home town in Germany, in 1719 on business, but Handel had left just the day before.

 

Handel's father disliked music and forbade little George from studying it, but this did not stop George from finding ways to drink in the wonders of music. His aunt smuggled a silent keyboard into the attic, and so he was able to study music in secret. On an outing with his father, a barber-surgeon, to visit a client, the Duke of Prussia, the little seven-year-old George saw an organ at the Duke's residence. He sat down and played it! The mesmerized Duke insisted that his father give the boy lessons, and his life changed forever! By the time he was nine, Handel was composing music for church services.

 

At age 24, Handel went to Italy, where he honed his craft writing Italian Opera, and then he moved to London.

 

 

Watch Now: Tips for Keeping your child Focused

 

How Handel Came to Write Messiah – an Oratorio

 

Handel took London by storm. He wrote and performed Italian operas, which were very trendy in early 18th century London. Unfortunately for George, the good and the great lost their interest in opera. Too many operas were being performed by too many theatres and opera houses, and Handel's audiences dwindled.

 

Handel turned to the Oratorio for his musical productions. The Oratorio was invented by Philip Neri. In 1556 Neri founded contemporary church services to attract the youth of the day in a building called an Oratory. He founded the order of the Oratorians in Rome. The Oratorio is a musical form setting Bible stories and scenes from sacred history to music without any dramatic staging, using an orchestra, choir, and soloists.

 

During this time, Handel's friend, Charles Jennens, a landowner and patron of the arts, wrote a theologically curated collection of Scriptures taken from The King James Bible and the great Bible of 1539. Jennens invited Handel to compose the music for it. The two had already collaborated on an Oratorio called Saul, which was very successful, partly because it was written in English.

 

Jennens writes to a friend in 1741:

Handel says he will do nothing next winter, but I hope I shall persuade him to set another Scripture collection I have made for him, and perform it for his own benefit in Passion Week. I hope he will lay out his whole genius and skill upon it, that the composition may excel all his former compositions, as the subject excels every other subject. The subject is Messiah.”

 

Handel took up the project and wrote at a feverish pace - writing 100 pages of the final 260 pages in only six days. He completed the entire Oratorio in just 24 days! An extraordinary feat!

 

Although writing at such a pace was not unusual for Handel, he was certainly inspired in his writing. While tearfully composing the Oratorio, he had a vision. Handel later said to his servant, "I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels!"

 

The first performance of Messiah took place in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742. This performance was a great success, but when he performed it in London the following year, it was a failure. The audience thought it was sacrilegious to have Scripture sung in a theatre by music hall singers.

The Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street Dublin

How Messiah Came to be the Most Celebrated Choral Work of All Time

 

Seven years went by, and Handel was struck by a groundbreaking idea! He proposed holding a benefit performance for the Foundling Hospital in London. The Foundling Hospital was the world’s first-ever incorporated charity set up by Captain Thomas Coram.  The hospital took in abandoned children and cared for them. The charity was celebrated by members of high society in London and a tourist attraction for everyone else, but it needed funds for its new chapel.

 

This fundraiser idea made history! The Foundling Hospital eagerly allowed Handel to put on a huge performance of the Messiah in 1750 to raise funds. This time not in a theatre, but in the hospital itself! This performance was considered an enormous success. So much so that Handel performed it at the hospital every year until he died in 1759. This annual performance started the tradition of holding a performance of the Messiah every year. This tradition has been kept alive all over the world for nearly 270 years.

 

The annual performance of the Messiah sparked the birth of another tradition. It is said that during the London performance of the Messiah in 1743, King George II stood up during the Hallelujah Chorus. When the king stands, everyone in his presence must stand! And so, for the last 270 years, the audience rises to their feet when the Hallelujah Chorus is sung. 

 

Speculation on why the King rose to his feet has been around for years. Some say he arrived late and entered immediately before the Hallelujah Chorus prompting everyone to stand. Others have suggested that he was lulled to sleep during the performance and was awakened by the sheer sound of the chorus. The shock of the rude awakening prompted him to stand up, and everyone followed suit. I prefer the final possibility that he was truly moved and excited by the rousing chorus and stood up to demonstrate his enthusiam. Perhaps, as the audience is compelled to stand before their king, King George was inspired by the words of the chorus to rise to his feet to stand before his KING.

 

Perhaps it was the power of Revelation 19:16, the verse Handel used to write the Hallelujah Chorus,  “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,” that inspired such adoration.

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
(For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth)
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
(Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
Hallelujah

The kingdom of this world;
is become the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ
and of His Christ
And He shall reign forever and ever
And he shall reign forever and ever
And he shall reign forever and ever
And he shall reign forever and ever

King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
and Lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
and Lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
and Lord of lords
King of kings and Lord of lords

And he shall reign
And he shall reign
And he shall reign
He shall reign
And he shall reign forever and ever
King of kings forever and ever
and Lord of lords hallelujah hallelujah
And he shall reign forever and ever
King of kings and Lord of lords
King of kings and Lord of lords
And he shall reign forever and ever
Forever and ever and ever and ever
(King of kings and Lord of lords)


Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah

 

Camerata Chicago, supporter of Clapham School, will perform the Hallelujah Chorus twice in its performance on November 2 – the second time inviting the audience to join in for a truly rousing finale to what promises to be a fabulous concert.

 

So what were the consequences of the Handel's idea? He was directly responsible for saving the lives of over 25,000 children, his Oratorio became a sensation, people all over the world perform it every year, and it has become the most celebrated piece of choral music ever written. It has been sung more often and heard by more people than any other single piece of music in the last 300 years. Some wonderful scriptural verses are sung to millions of people annually, and as the librettist Jennens put it “the subject excels every other subject. The subject is Messiah.

 

Handel Messaih Camearta

CAMERATA CHICAGO CHAMBER ORCHESTRA & CHOIR

Sacred Music Series 2019

Handel Messiah and Hallelujah Chorus

3 p.m. Saturday November 2, 2019
College Church, WHEATON

Website | Tickets | Facebook

Use coupon code CLSC for a 50% DISCOUNT
Children go for free!

Enjoy the outstanding musical artistry of Camerata Chicago.

  • Elite choir with top Chicago area choristers
  • Five wonderful soloists: Robin Wiper, Sarah Holman, Jonathan Johnson, Gerard Sundberg and boy soprano Asher Moses singing the part of the Angel.
  • Fascinating pre-concert talk with Prof. Saylor at 2:15pm.
  • Generously sponsored by Tyndale House Foundation and the Savegnago Family Partnership.

Use coupon code CLSC for a 50% DISCOUNT
After Discount: Adult $25; Senior: $20; Students: $5.
All concertgoers of age 16 and under can go free with a paying adult.
This event is not sponsored by or a function of College Church.

New call-to-action

RSVP Now: Open House | Clapham School

 

Topics: news, Bible, Biblical Worldview, Classical Education, Composers, History, music