“On The 21st Day of Christmas Countdown we contemplate the vision of Handel’s musical gift…combined with Isaiah, a timeless prophecy to uplift!”
This weekend Ed Reichel, music critic with The Deseret News, published an excellent article entitled “Hallelujah! Messiah is beloved holiday tradition“. It delves into the life of composer George Frideric Handel, and the story behind his famous Oratorio masterpiece: “Messiah“. (including how the tradition started for the audience to stand during the “Hallelujah” Chorus)
Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without “Messiah.” But…”Messiah” was never intended as a work for the Christmas season. Its first performance occurred in April 1742 in Dublin as a benefit to free men incarcerated in debtor’s prison…
Reichel goes on to explain that Handel was, in essense, the ‘John Williams’ of his day. He composed trendy music for theater, and countless operas. When the popularity of his music dwindled, along with his bank account, a wealthy benefactor named Charles Jennens stepped up in the nick of time. This allowed Handel the chance to re-invent himself, and revive his career ala Oratorio. In 1741 Jennens gave Handel a libretto he had written. It encompassed the entire scope of Jesus Christ; using scriptures from the Old and New Testament. Handel’s reaction was nothing short of electric! He shut himself into a room in his home for 3 weeks, writing the musical score.
During that time, he never left his house and barely came out of his room. A servant who brought him his meals said, “He was praying, or he was weeping, or he was staring into eternity.”
I believe Handel and Isaiah share a common bond. Each bore their witness of Jesus Christ. Each received divine guidance and vision. Once their inspiration was written down, it would change the world. There is an amazing synergy of creative power that these two great men were able to accomplish together, although centuries apart.
There can be no doubt that Handel was inspired when he wrote the music for “Messiah.” He admitted as much when he said about the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which he had just completed, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself.”
During that three week period of intense creative communion, a great prophet, and a great composer channeled their devotion – and the result is a timeless work of harmonic scripture. A musical prophecy, if you will, to guide our weary souls and promote heavenly peace, eternally.
“Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:…
“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.
Isaiah 7:14, 9: 2, 6-7,
So, why does the audience stand during the “Hallelujah” Chorus?
According to a contemporary account, King George II was present at the first performance of “Messiah” in London, and during the “Hallelujah Chorus” at the words “for the Lord God omnipotent,” the king was so touched by what he was hearing that he stood up. Seeing their majesty on his feet, the audience swiftly followed suit. That’s where the tradition to stand for this chorus originated.