Posted by: rcottrill | October 29, 2018

Messiah

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Words: Charles Jennens (b. _____, 1700; d. Nov. 20, 1773)
Music: George Frederick Handel (b. Feb. 23, 1685; d. Apr. 14, 1759)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (George Handel)
The Cyber Hymnal (George Handel)
Hymnary.org (George Handel)

Note: On one occasion, Handel’s Messiah was to be presented in a city near us. I organized a bus-load of people from our church to attend. All, I believe, received a blessing. I’ve also had the idea, for some years, that the oratorio (specifically the Scriptures used) could be used for a discussion Bible study, but haven’t done anything on it…yet. Meanwhile, while I’m driving any distance, I’ve listened, over and over, to Messiah, as I go. What a blessing!

He sat at his painstaking work, hour after hour, already an old man at fifty-six, two decades past the average life expectancy of his day. He was all but bankrupt. Even worse, he was suffering from depression, and was in great physical pain from arthritis. Playing the organ, or writing music, as he was, caused him intense agony. He was at one of the lowest points in his life. But the Lord was going to use him mightily.

A musical genius, his name is George Frederick Handel. What he produced is a musical masterpiece called simply Messiah (without the initial word “The”). It’s not a retelling of the whole life of Christ, but a gospel message about the drama of redemption. In effect, it presents, in music, one of the greatest sermons ever preached. John Wesley, after attending a performance, wrote in his journal, “I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon.”

Handel’s friend Charles Jennens put together the text. He had a deep knowledge of the Scriptures, and used verses (from the King James Version) from both Old and New Testaments. It may well be the grandest expression of the gospel in music ever created. Beethoven, on his deathbed, pointed to Handel’s work and said, “There is truth.” When someone commented after a performance that it was “excellent entertainment,” Handel replied, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wish to make them better.”

The Bible presents Christ’s redeeming sacrifice over and over. “[He] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us” (Tit. 2:14). We are redeemed from the slave market of sin “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:18-19). In heaven, the saints exclaim, “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). And we respond, with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” (Job 19:25).

The over four dozen separate pieces in the work are presented in three parts, originally named: The Promise of Redemption; The Price of Redemption; The Power of Redemption. After writing the famous Hallelujah Chorus (for Part 2) Handel exclaimed, “I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God Himself.”

Handel’s masterpiece is all Scripture, and only Scripture. For your interest, and further study, the references of all the texts used in Messiah are given in the Wordwise Hymns link above. (In some cases, only part of a particular verse is used.) The entire work is rich and wonderfully enriching. But here are four examples. (I’m quoting from the New King James Version, below, so the wording may be slightly different from the older text Handel used.)

¤ “The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isa. 40:5). What has impressed me especially here is the clause that ends the verse. What is promised will happen without fail, because God has spoken, and His Word is certain.

¤ “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). A joyful celebration of the coming of Messiah.

¤ Psalm 2:1-4, 9 is powerfully presented in a series of four selections. The futile wrath and rebellion of man against Christ that will come in the last days, before the Lord’s return is dramatically portrayed.

¤ The above is followed by a combination of Scriptures constituting the famed Hallelujah Chorus. “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” (Rev. 19:6); “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15); “King of kings and Lord of lords” (I Tim. 6:15).

On August 22, 1741, Handel began his labours, completing Part One in six days, Part Two in nine days, and Part Three in six, fleshing out the orchestral parts in a further three days. In a mere twenty-four days he had written 260 pages of complex music. Apart from its powerful message, it’s been called the greatest feat of musical composition in history.

The premiere of the massive oratorio–which takes about two and a half hours to perform–came on April 13, 1742. The demand for tickets was so great men were asked not to wear their swords, and women asked not to wear hoops in their skirts. This provided room for a hundred extra people. Hundreds more had to be turned away. When the first performance was given in London, King George II attended, and he stood for the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus, all the others rising with him. This has become a tradition that remains to this day.

There was strong criticism from some of the clergy because the work was sometimes presented in a theatre, using professional musicians who weren’t necessarily born again Christians. To the Puritan mind of the time, this was an outrage, and it caused some to label Handel a heretic. But in spite of the critics, it’s become the most beloved choral work in the English language. And heaven will likely reveal that it was used of God to bring many to faith in Christ.

In 1752, a man wrote to a pastor friend, urging him to take his wife to hear Messiah. He said, “You will hear glad tidings and truly divine rejoicings at the birth of Christ, and feel real sorrows for His sufferings–but oh! when those sufferings are over, what a transporting full chorus!”

Questions:
1) Have you ever listened to the whole Messiah, or attended a performance of it?

2) What blessings did you receive from the experience?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (George Handel)
The Cyber Hymnal (George Handel)
Hymnary.org (George Handel)


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