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The oratorio"Messiah" by Handel. A great masterpiece of baroque music

Updated on April 22, 2015

George Frideric Handel.

This is what Christmas is really about

This is what caused a king to jump to his feet

This caused a clergyman to shout out

Contents

"Messiah" by Handel. One of the highlights of the Christmas season

The first performance of “Messiah” and a portrait of Handel

"Messiah". A most inspiring oratorio

This is what Christmas is really about.

This is what caused a king to jump to his feet

This caused a clergyman to shout out

"Messiah" by Handel. One of the highlights of the Christmas season


One of the traditions in the run up to Christmas, as well as the anticipation surrounding the mass slaughter of turkeys, the excitement of seeing a third rate pop star turning on the Christmas lights, and the fussing about whether we really want to invite that great uncle, who got drunk last year, and sat on little George’s “Fisher Price” windmill, thus proving that while their toys may be child proof, they are definitely not obnoxious old relative proof, is the plethora of performances of that great oratorio “Messiah” by the German born, but naturalised British composer George Frideric Handel.


The first performance of “Messiah” and a portrait of Handel

“Messiah” had its first public performance in the great old city of Dublin in the year 1741. It was the sixth oratorio by that famous composer. The idea of performing a dramatic retelling of sacred stories in concert form, rather than in the fashionable opera manner, came about because there was a law on the statute books in the eighteenth century that forbade the depiction on stage of sacred subjects. Those were the days when opera singers, as well as actors and actresses, were considered to be less than moral people. Time has moved on a bit now. Nobody has got any more perfect in their behaviour, but nowadays, very few of us care.

On first appearance, George Frideric Handel, might seem like an unlikely composer for music of such sublime beauty, and that literally shouts out praises to the Glory of God. He had had a rather chequered career. Before he came to Britain, he had been employed by The Elector of Hanover, but he asked for leave of absence, in order to further his ambitions in London. According to the legend, Handel liked England so much, that he abandoned all intention of returning to his employer in Hanover. Something that apparently did not enter into the calculations of the errant composer was that The Elector was also Heir Apparent to the throne of Britain. When King George I arrived, Handel needed to do some serious sucking up, or he would be in deep “Doo Doo”. Accordingly he composed “The Water Music” to be played on a pleasure trip the new king took on the river. Enraged Majesty was mollified by the delightful music, and George Frideric Handel was spared a spell as a prisoner in the Tower of London. King George I was not averse to locking up people who pissed him off. His ex-wife was locked up for decades in a castle in Germany, just for trying to run away with another man. Handel also had a reputation for having a somewhat fiery temper. He is rumoured to have once dangled a soprano out a top floor window, when she wouldn’t sing the right note. As a mentor, he must have made Simon Cowell seem like a kitten.

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"Messiah". A most inspiring oratorio

Anyway, enough of this “tabloid” biography. Back to “Messiah”. Whatever the alleged character defects of the composer, his great oratorio contains some of the most heavenly music ever composed, and it has been rightly popular since those days in the mid eighteenth century, when its eternal notes first wafted their way into the ears of the inhabitants of the capital of Ireland. The most popular chorus in the entire piece is the “Hallelujah Chorus”. There is another legend attached to this. According to the story, King George II, (”the son of Handel’s old employer), was so moved by the power of this great outpouring to the Divine Majesty, that he jumped to his feet. Of course, when The King stands, everyone else is required to stand as well, so the whole audience jumped to its feet. There is a tradition ever since that people stand for the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Some less charitable commentators have said that George mistook the chorus for the start of The National Anthem, and others say that The King never even attended a performance of “Messiah”. I prefer to go with the popular version. Another report that comes down to us about the first performance, is that a Dublin clergyman, Reverend Mr Delaney was so moved by Susanna Cibber’s rendering of the great contralto aria “He was despised”, that he shouted out "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!" Whether he knew something of the character of the particular artiste, or this was just an assurance to all of the female sex, we just don’t know.

The words of “Messiah” are taken from “The King James Bible” and that great monument of heretical English religion, “The Book of Common Prayer”. I’m a Catholic, so I can call Protestants heretics. Some of them call me “spawn of The Antichrist”. That kind of evens things up. Whatever our religious differences, we can all still be moved by a performance of “Messiah”. If you get a chance to go see one this year, take it. It will give you a taste of what Christmas is really about.

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    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi frogyfish.

      All the videos are working fine on my hub here. Maybe one of them is not on YouTube in the US because of copyright issues. I may change that one. These things happen sometimes.

      Thanks for reading though.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 

      5 years ago from Central United States of America

      Wonderful! Still listening to your music now. But the second video won't work FYI. I enjoy this Oratorio immensely. Thanks for sharing history about it.

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Keith. I reckon we would have had our ears clipped, at the very least. (This was the punishment for publishing stuff the government didn't approve of.) Officially it was called malicious libel, but since the king appointed the judges, the authorities could determine the level of guilt. So we would both be "screwed". We could not be banished to Australia, since it was not discovered yet. We would have to wait another sixty years for that.

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Hi Chris, thanks for another funny, compelling, and entertaining history lesson. I reckon you and I would have had to watch our Ps and Qs in King George the first's time. It's a good job that Handel knew how to handle yon king, or we might not have been able to immersed our lug holes in his Messiah. Cheers

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Nell.

      I just came to live here about seven weeks ago, so I haven't really had time to explore the county yet. I will have to save going to the seaside until next summer. But I am sure I will love it when I do go there.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi, didn't realise that you were in Kent! I love Margate, I went there every year as a child, at least you are nearer the ocean! lucky thing! lol!

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi drbj.

      I'm going to phone the tourist information office today, to find out what the options are. There might be a performance at Rochester Cathedral, which is just a couple of miles away. I could go up to London. It would only take me an hour on the train. I always leave these things to the last possible minute. That is my big problem.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      You are absolutely correct, christopher. The 'Messiah' by Handel IS one of our greatest musical treasures. Thank you for making this tribute to both the composer and his oratorio so enchanting as well as fun to read. Bravo.

      I do hope you locate a performance in Kent you can attend in person.

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Nell.

      Annoyingly, this is the first year in a long time that I can afford to go see a performance of "Messiah". But, since I moved to Kent, I don't know where it is on.

      Life can be a bitch sometimes.

    • nemanjaboskov profile image

      Nemanja Boškov 

      6 years ago from Serbia

      Thanks Chris; you have really deserved every comment and every word I sent your way, and there is a lot more to come, my friend :)

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Nemanja. I hope things get a lot better for you soon. You are "one of the good guys" and you deserve the best. Thanks for all your support.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi, I love your humour throughout, I must admit that I am a bit of a heathen where this sort of music is concerned, I love it but never go anywhere to hear it, maybe its more lack of money than heathenism, who knows? lol! but he was certainly one of the greats, cheers nell

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      You put yourself down Wesman. I think you are a very talented writer, and a lot of other people here agree with me.

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      CP. Each to their own. Thanks for reading, and for your kind words.

    • nemanjaboskov profile image

      Nemanja Boškov 

      6 years ago from Serbia

      Hi, Chris...

      Unfortunately, my current internet connection speed is dreadful to say at least, so I can't even imagine listening to any of the wonderful music choices you incorporate in your hubs... However, as soon as things get better, I will be back to enjoy every one of these videos, my friend.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Some folks just have the talent to create something that lasts for centuries or longer.

      Wish that I were one of them.

      Great stories!

    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 

      6 years ago from Vermont, USA

      Christopher-

      As usual, your writing is as enjoyable as the tale it tells.

      It was glorious music like this that prompted me during my parochial grade school years to suggest to the nuns that the children's church choir be co-ed. But, though I was routinely called upon to sing solos for every school assembly, in church my voice was relegated to droning arcane Latin responses to the priest's intonations.

      Even now this music tempts me to resume attending Mass. But, Nah!

      I guess I'll settle for singing along when "Stairway To Heaven" plays on the radio.

      CP

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Nemanja. Thanks for being the first to comment here. I'm glad you enjoyed the writing, as I always value your opinion. I hope the music pleases you as well.

    • nemanjaboskov profile image

      Nemanja Boškov 

      6 years ago from Serbia

      Chris, you have told a beautiful and very interesting story here!

      The little anecdotes have really made me smile :)

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