When it was originally written, the author intended his finished work to celebrate the season of Lent and culminate on Easter. But since the original performance way back in April of 1743, George Frideric Handel’s Messiah has come to be synonymous with the season of Advent and Christmas.
The Messiah, an oratorio masterpiece is considered the most performed music and message of all time. All the more incredible when you stop and consider how fast Handel completed the composition. We are told that Handel completed the original score in less than a month! 24 days to be exact. His servants said of him that when he was composing during those 24 days, Handel was either praying, weeping, or he was staring into eternity.
At the end of his manuscript Handel wrote the letters “SDG”—Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory”. This inscription, taken with the speed of composition, has encouraged belief in the prophetic story that Handel wrote the music in a fervor of divine inspiration in which, as he wrote the “Hallelujah” chorus, “he saw all heaven before him”.
But the question we should ask is what inspired Handel to write such a culture-transforming piece of music? His inspiration came after being overwhelmed with reading the Old and New Testament. That’s right, reading the Bible preceded his musical inspiration. The Living Word brought Handel to life in a way that demonstrated such incredible artistic creation that he later testified to music dancing and exploding in his head and heart. The result is of course The Messiah.
What I love about Handel is that he was not merely satisfied with just artistic expression, he was also a cultural warrior! When he was ready to debut his work of art, he insisted on making the debut concert a charitable one—choosing three charities to benefit from the money raised through the concert. The three charities that were to benefit were prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. Oh that all artists would reject a ‘me-centered’ approach to their art!
A completed musical performance of The Messiah requires nearly three hours; the Scripture texts alone—30 minutes. For the purposes of this on-line advent calendar I only included the most famous of the music, that is of course, the Hallelujah chorus. The following was performed at Radio City Music Hall. Enjoy.