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INCREDIBLE INSPIRATION – Handel’s Messiah

 In this post, I want to share some things about George Friderich Händel the composer.  It is probable that most people are familiar with the Hallelujah chorus.  It is oftentimes sung during the Christmas season and is part of Handel’s Messiah. My husband and I especially love this music.  To us it is edifying because it is set to scripture, especially prophesies of Christ’s first coming.  It’s quite a story how the Lord blessed Handel to write the music and prospered his servant financially afterwards. It is a wonderful success story. Handel drove himself relentlessly trying to recover from one failure after another, and his health began to fail.

In 1741 he was swimming in debt and it seemed certain he would land in debtor’s prison where those who could not pay their debts were taken.  In April of that year, he gave what he considered his farewell concert.  Miserably discouraged, he felt forced to retire from public activities at the age of 56.  Then two unforeseen events converged to change his life.  A wealthy friend, Charles Jennings, gave Handel a libretto based on the life of Christ, taken entirely from the Bible.  He also received a commission from a Dublin charity to compose a work for a benefit performance. Handel set to work composing on August 22 in his little house in London.  He grew so engrossed in his work that he rarely left his room, hardly stopping to eat.  Within six days Part One was complete.  In nine days more he had finished Part Two, and in another six, Part  Three. The orchestration was completed in another two days.  In all, 260 pages of manuscript were filled in the remarkably short time of 24 days. Sir Newman Flower, one of Handel’s many biographers, summed up the consensus of history: “Considering the immensity of the work and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition.

Handel’s title for the commissioned work was, simply, Messiah. Handel never left his house for those three weeks.  A friend who visited him as he composed found him sobbing with intense emotion.  Later, as Handel groped for words to describe what he had experienced, he incorporated some of the words of Paul, saying, “Whether in the body or out of my body when I wrote it I know not.”

Messiah premiered on April 13, 1742, as a charitable benefit, raising 400 pounds and freeing 142 men from debtor’s prison. The King of England attended the performance and as the first notes of the triumphant “Hallelujah Chorus” rang out, the king rose to his feet.  Following royal protocol, the entire audience stood too, initiating a tradition which has lasted for more than two centuries. Soon after this, Handel’s fortunes began to increase dramatically, and his hard-won popularity remained constant until his death.

By the end of his long life, Messiah was firmly established in the standard repertoire.  His influence on other composers would be extraordinary.  When Haydn later heard the “Hallelujah Chorus,” he wept like a child and exclaimed, “He is the master of us all!” But it is evident that this great composition was the work of Someone greater than just Handel. Handel was the conduit through which this masterpiece flowed, but it was God Himself Who seems to have authored it. It is He Who is the real Master of all who seek Him and allow Him to work through them!

Handel personally conducted more than thirty performances of Messiah. Many of these concerts were benefits for the Foundling Hospital of which Handel was a major benefactor.  The thousands of pounds Handel’s performances of Messiah raised for charity led one biographer to note, “Messiah has fed the hungry, clothed the naked, fostered the orphan more than any other single musical production in this or any country.”  Another wrote how that the works of no other composer have so largely contributed to the relief of human suffering.

Handel was a devout follower of Christ and his morals were above reproach.  Known universally for his generosity and concern for those who suffered, Handel donated freely to charities even in times when he faced personal financial ruin.  He was a relentless optimist whose faith in God sustained him through every difficulty. His close friend James Moore Smythe wrote, “He died as he lived-a good Christian, with a true sense of his duty to God and to man, and in perfect charity with all the world.”  Handel was buried in Westminster Abbey, with over 3,000 in attendance at his funeral.  A statue erected there shows him holding the manuscript for the solo that opens Part Three of “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Isn’t it wonderful to know that our Redeemer lives and was born to this very end?

Have a great and glorious Christmas and holiday season!

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