The Triumphant Story of George Friedrich Handel's "Messiah"


The most fantastically beautiful and popular religious music of all time, George Freidrich Handel's Messiah was written in just 24 days. The climactic ending of the second part, the Hallelujah Chorus stirs the soul so deeply, it is said that Handel himself cried tears of joy and shouted out that he had seen the face of God. Even King George II, it is said, stood up at this point of the 1743 London premiere performance. Thus was born the traditional standing of the audience through that towering crescendo of voices.

Beethoven said of Handel, "He is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb."

George Friedrich Handel was born in Germany on February 23, 1685. It is said he began his study of music early on, as young as seven or eight years old, and he had composed his first opera, Almira, at the age of just 18. 

Handel spent a few years in Italy, then settled in London around 1712 where he spent most of the remainder of his life. During the following three decades he composed around 40 operas. 

After he suffered a stroke in 1737 at the age of 52, the stroke having caused temporary paralysis on Handel's right side as well as blurred vision in his eyes, Handel would completely change his musical direction and he began writing oratorios. Oratorio translates to "teaching by music". Oratorio is a musical composition that was used in those days to tell great stories from the Bible since most people during this time period didn't have written copies of the Bible. 

Around 1741, after many years of financial and physical hardship, a ray of hope came in the form of a man named Charles Jennens who was writing lyrics for an oratorio on the birth, mission and second coming of Christ. After reading this oratorio Handel became inspired and began writing the music for "Messiah".

"Messiah" debuted in Dublin on April 13, 1742, to a packed house, which only had room for about 700 people. Many people had to be turned away from the performance for lack of space, which was done as a charity event for debt relief of prisoners, Mercer Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary.

"Messiah" having been written originally to be performed as an Easter celebration, has never the less become possibly the most popular Christmas concert piece of all time, a tradition of performances during Christmas having grown up over the past centuries.



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