One of the most celebrated works in music is George Frederick Handel’s oratorio, Messiah. The Hallelujah Chorus is recognized the world over, but few know of the actual story of the man and his master work.
Many of the great composers attributed their talent as a gift from God. They have varied backgrounds and beliefs, yet they all agree on basic Christian beliefs. This is not to say they have led the quintessential Christian life, but they all held a sincere faith.
God Uses Broken Things
Once the great opera composer in the king’s court, Handel was a complete failure by 1741, facing debtor’s prison, living in physical pain, and became the victim of sabotage that was set up against his career. To make matters worse, opera was no longer in demand and authorities of the Church of England were critical of him and his works. No longer attracting crowds, he planned his farewell appearance in London in April that year.
Away from the criticism of London elites, he went to Dublin as a place of refuge. But by August, he composed Messiah, deemed by some to be “an epitome of the Christian faith.” Handel barely ate during his 24 days of composing the work, an incredible feat for such a masterpiece. It is said after writing the Hallelujah Chorus he had tears in his eyes and cried out to his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.”
A Christian Friend
What is nearly forgotten to history is his dear friend, Charles Jennens, Jr. who gave Handel the libretto (text) to create a sacred work. Jennens had assembled verses on the Messiah from both the Old and New Testaments from the King James Bible.
It was the Age of Enlightenment when Christianity was being rejected and Deism was preferred by elites. But Jennens wanted to hold fast the Christian faith and used Bible verses pointing to Jesus as the Savior, the Anointed One, the Messiah.
A charity in Dublin paid Handel to write a work for a charity performance. The resulting Messiah debuted in the Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742 with proceeds used to free 142 men from debtors’ prison. Not only was Messiah well received, it was a huge success launching Handel into superstardom. From the moment the tenor sang the opening line, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” audiences were mesmerized by the uplifting messages so beautifully portrayed in song.
A New Holiday Season Tradition
A year later, King George II attended the first performance of Messiah in London. At the opening of the Hallelujah Chorus, the king rose to his feet, and the audience followed suit. It has become a tradition to stand during the Hallelujah Chorus ever since.
Now a Christmas and Easter classic, Handel intended Messiah to not only entertain, but also to elevate Christianity in the hearts of listeners, “I wish to make them better.” He often gave his proceeds to orphans, the ill, hospitals, debtors, and retired musicians. His humanity was often reflected in his work. Even Ludwig van Beethoven citing Messiah, said Handel was the “greatest composer that ever lived.”
Many of his contemporaries acknowledge Handel as having super status. “Even when the subject of his work is religious, Handel is writing about the human response to the divine,” says conductor Bicket. “The feelings of joy you get from the Hallelujah choruses are second to none,” says conductor Cummings. “And how can anybody resist the Amen chorus at the end? It will always lift your spirits if you are feeling down.”
Take a moment and uplift your soul by listening to the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah…
The Words of Handel’s Messiah
Here are the beautiful words Jennens compiled from the bible that are used in Handel’s Messiah that were published by Tynsdale. Let these words inspire you as they have for generations during the holiday season and throughout the year:
Scripture Used in Part One of Handel’s Messiah
Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness;
prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low;
the crooked straight and the rough places plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together:
for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts:
Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth,
the sea and the dry land.
And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come.
The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple,
even the messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in;
behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.
But who may abide the day of His coming,
and who shall stand when He appeareth?
For He is like a refiner’s fire.
And He shall purify the sons of Levi,
that they may offer unto the Lord
an offering in righteousness.
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,
and shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us.
(Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,
get thee up into the high mountain.
O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid;
say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God!
Arise, shine, for thy Light is come,
and the glory of the Lord
is risen upon thee.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and gross darkness the people;
but the Lord shall arise upon thee,
and His glory shall be seen upon thee,
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light,
and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;
and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,
and the government shall be upon His shoulder;
and His name shall be called,
Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God,
the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
There were shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flocks by night.
And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them,
and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them: Fear not,
for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David
a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And suddenly there was with the angel,
a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying:
Glory to God in the highest,
and peace on earth, good will towards men.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee;
He is the righteous Saviour,
and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart,
and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd;
and He shall gather the lambs with His arm,
and carry them in His bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
Come unto Him, all ye that labour,
come unto Him that are heavy laden,
and He will give you rest.
Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him,
for He is meek and lowly of heart,
and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.
Scripture Used in Part 2 of Handel’s Messiah
Behold the Lamb of God,
that taketh away the sin of the world.
He was despised and rejected of men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them
that plucked off the hair:
He hid not His face from shame and spitting.
Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows!
He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.
And with His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way.
And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn;
they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying:
He trusted in God that He would deliver Him;
let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him.
Thy rebuke hath broken His heart:
He is full of heaviness.
He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man,
neither found He any to comfort Him.
Behold, and see if there be any sorrow
like unto His sorrow.
He was cut off out of the land of the living:
for the transgressions of Thy people was He stricken.
But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell;
nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors;
and the King of Glory shall come in.
Who is this King of Glory?
The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle,
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be lift up, ye everlasting doors;
and the King of Glory shall come in.
Who is this King of Glory?
The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.
Unto which of the angels
said He at any time:
Thou art My Son,
this day have I begotten Thee?
Let all the angels of God worship Him.
Thou art gone up on high;
Thou hast led captivity captive,
and received gifts for men;
yea, even from Thine enemies,
that the Lord God might dwell among them.
The Lord gave the word;
great was the company of the preachers.
How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace,
and bring glad tidings of good things.
(Isaiah 52:7/Romans 10:15)
Their sound is gone out into all lands,
and their words unto the ends of the world.
(Romans 10:18/Psalm 19:4)
Why do the nations so furiously rage together,
and why do the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth rise up,
and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord,
and against His Anointed.
Let us break their bonds asunder,
and cast away their yokes from us.
He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn;
the Lord shall have them in derision.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron;
thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ;
and He shall reign for ever and ever.
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.
Scripture Used in Part 3 of Handel’s Messiah
I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.
(1 Corinthians 15:20)
Since by man came death,
by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
(1 Corinthians 15:21-22)
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep,
but we shall all be changed in a moment,
in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
(1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption
and this mortal must put on immortality.
(1 Corinthians 15:52-53)
Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
(1 Corinthians 15:54)
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.
(1 Corinthians 15:55-56)
But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:57)
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?
It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?
It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again,
who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,
and hath redeemed us to God by His blood,
to receive power, and riches, and wisdom,
and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him
that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.
==> Also learn about Isaac Watts: Soldier of the Cross.
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