Exploring Music's Complexities

Handel’s Messiah

Handel

For many, Christmas music creates joy and inspiration. Among the favorite holiday compositions  is an English-language oratorio composed by Georg Friedrich Handel in 1741, entitled Messiah. Its scriptural text was compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible, and from the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. The music for the Messiah was originally written for Easter and took only 24 days to compose. Upon receiving the text from Jennens about July 10th in 1741, Handel began to compose on August 22 and completed the work September 14th.  If you like, you can listen to a YouTube performance while you peruse this post.

Messiah

The work consists of three parts. “In Part I, the Messiah’s coming and the virgin birth are predicted by the Old Testament prophets. The annunciation to the shepherds of the birth of the Christ is represented in the words of Luke’s gospel. Part II covers Christ’s passion and his death, his resurrection and ascension, the first spreading of the gospel through the world, and a definitive statement of God’s glory summarised in the “Hallelujah”. Part III begins with the promise of redemption, followed by a prediction of the day of judgment and the “general resurrection“, ending with the final victory over sin and death and the acclamation of Christ.  According to the musicologist Donald Burrows, much of the text is so allusive as to be largely incomprehensible to those ignorant of the biblical accounts. For the benefit of his audiences Jennens printed and issued a pamphlet explaining the reasons for his choices of scriptural selections (1).”

Messiah begins with instrumental and solo movements before the muted chorus enters. Although it is not written in any particular key, its has been suggested that it is in D major, the key musically associated with light and glory (2).

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times music critic, finds “a model marriage of music and text … From the gentle falling melody assigned to the opening words (“Comfort ye”) to the sheer ebullience of the “Hallelujah” chorus and the ornate celebratory counterpoint that supports the closing “Amen”, hardly a line of text goes by that Handel does not amplify”. (3).

The Messiah was first performed in Dublin on April 13th. After a cool reception the oratorio gained in popularity to become one of the best known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music. While it was originally composed for smaller vocal and instrumental ensembles, the work was adapted for performances on a much larger scale. It was revised and amplified by Mozart among others. Since the 20th Century, the trend has been to attempt to reproduce it more to Handel’s original intentions.

 

References

 (1) Vickers, David. “Messiah, A Sacred Oratorio”. GFHandel.org. Archived from the original on 8 September 2012. Retrieved 5 November 2009.

 (2)  Hicks, Anthony (1991). Handel: Messiah (CD). The Decca Recording Company Ltd. OCLC 25340549. (Origins and the present performance, Edition de L’Oiseau-Lyre 430 488–2) pp. 10–11.

(3)   Kozinn, Allan (24 December 1997). “Messiah Mavens Find that its Ambiguities Reward All Comers”. The New York Times. pp. E10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) Vickers, David. “Messiah, A Sacred Oratorio”. GFHandel.org. Archived from the original on 8 September 2012. Retrieved 5 November 2009.

 (2) Hicks, pp. 10–11 Hicks, Anthony (1991). Handel: Messiah (CD). The Decca Recording Company Ltd. OCLC 25340549. (Origins and the present performance, Edition de L’Oiseau-Lyre 430 488–2)

Kozinn, Allan (24 December 1997). “Messiah Mavens Find that its Ambiguities Reward All Comers”. The New York Times. pp. E10.

 

 

 

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Categorised in: History, Holiday Music

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