Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Countdown to Christmas/Advent (10/23/08)
- TITLE: Handel's Messiah
By Cona Gregory-Adams
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The most thrilling music ever to reach my ears is, without doubt, Handel's Messiah. Surely, no one can experience a performance and remain unmoved by this stirring composition. Indubitably, Handel was inspired by God's Spirit while writing the brilliant oratorio. Since its first performance in 1742, Messiah has remained one of the most popular works in music ever written. From all accounts, Handel was driven to push himself to the limit in its completion.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was a German-born organist and composer. He was born in Halle and began taking music lessons at the age of 7. By the time he was 12, he was assistant organist at the Halle cathedral. He began his work as a composer at the age of 18.
He later moved to Italy and became one of the most popular composers of Italian opera, writing 46 Italian operas, over 100 Italian solo cantatas, 32 oratorios, and many other works. His anthem for the coronation of George II has been used for all subsequent coronations. As an organist, he was considered without peers.
He moved to England at the age of 27; lived in London until his death, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. At 56, he abandoned opera and dedicated himself to composing oratorios. Messiah was the first, and was presented in a theater in Dublin in 1742. Less than ten years later, blindness forced him to give up composing, but he remained active. He conducted a Holy Week performance of Messiah the day before he died.
It was told of Handel, that he was so engrossed in his work during the composition of Messiah, that he closeted himself in his study and would not come out until it was completed. His housekeeper would bring his food and, with a knock, set the tray on the floor. When she would return to retrieve the dishes, the food was invariably untouched. He felt the excitement of true inspiration, and the urgency of recording it. When he emerged, gaunt and unkempt, his eyes shone with an inner radiance, and he declared that he had “. . . seen the great God himself.”
The power of this work has inspired millions since its first performance. The text is a collection of quotations gathered by Handel’s friend Charles Jennens from the Bible. It illustrates the foundations of Christianity in a series of musical numbers that parallel the prophecy of Christ’s coming, his birth, life, death, and resurrection.
The main reason for the popularity of Messiah lies in its glorious choruses, which display a variety of mood and technique. “And the Glory of the Lord” is a happy dance like chorus in triple time. In “Surely He hath Borne our Grief's,” Handel portrayed grief with solemn rhythms and thick harmony. The thrilling “Hallelujah Chorus” shows Handel as a master of choral effects. No matter how many times one hears it, the thrill never diminishes.
Reference: The Columbia Encyclopedia - Second Edition, 1950
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