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Excerpts from Messiah (1742)
George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)
And the Glory of the Lord
George Frideric Handel (born Georg Friedrich Händel) was born in Halle,
Germany. He studied law and music, and in 1702 became organist at Moritzburg
Cathedral. After several successful years as a composer in Germany, Handel
visited London in 1710 and gained instant fame with his opera “Rinaldo.” He
returned to Germany, but was dissatisfied with his post there and emigrated to
England in 1712. He became a British citizen, anglicized his name, and remained
there for the rest of his life.
In 1741 Handel was invited to Dublin, Ireland, to give a performance for charity
of a new work. He composed “Messiah” especially for this occasion. King George
II attended the work’s London première in March, 1743. The “Hallelujah” Chorus
so awed the King that he involuntarily stood during the entire segment. Having
seen the King rise, the audience also stood, and had to remain standing as long as
he did. Audiences today still follow this custom by standing during the
“Hallelujah” Chorus.
“Messiah” is probably the greatest oratorio ever written. Sublime in concept
and unrivaled in eloquence, it remains one of humankind’s most magnificent
creations. Incredibly, it was written in twenty-four days! Handel composed it in a
frenzy of creativity; during this time he remained housebound and refused to see
visitors. He scarcely slept and seldom ate. Although not particularly religious, he
seems to have been genuinely touched by divine inspiration. Handel’s friend
Charles Jennens, or perhaps his secretary Pooley, compiled the text, which was
adapted from the Scriptures.
“Messiah” is in three parts. The first contains the prophecy of the coming of the
Messiah. The central part deals with the sufferings and death of Christ, and the last
part is concerned with the Resurrection. The Overture in the French style
comprises two separate sections – a slow and stately opening followed by a quick
fugal passage. After a recitative and aria for tenor comes the rousing chorus “And
the Glory of the Lord.” The second part, which contains some of the most beautiful
music in the whole score, concludes with the magnificent final section, the
“Hallelujah” Chorus.
© Ted Wilks, 2012