Arise, shine, for thy light is come...
“Handel is the greatest composer who ever lived. I would bare my head and kneel at his grave.”
— Ludwig von Beethoven, 1824
My favorite piece of music of all time is one permanently and concretely identified with the Christmas holiday season - George Fredric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah.”
I suppose many people will now pause in their reading and think “Crees is trying to foist himself off as a music snob. Highbrow. Classic stuff. MEH!!”
Not true. (At least not completely!)
I love all kinds of music - Eric Clapton’s “Bell Bottom Blues.” Boz Scaggs’ “Lido Shuffle.” Shennendoah’s “Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart...”
Of lonesome highways
Drinking gallons of coffee in a little cafe
Brought me here, and it’s so good to find there’s someone who’s got
The same story as mine...”
But Handel’s “Messiah” makes me cry. It is that beautiful.
I (and you) can always listen to it at Christmastime. (Actually, I can listen to it anytime - I have the “Messiah” on CD, tape and vinyl!)
Funny thing is, the “Messiah” is actually more an Easter-themed piece of music, but... whatever.
The oratorio begins with the Nativity, in the first section, and continues with the story of the Crucifixion, and the Redemption in the second part. The third section is an affirmation of faith. Although the famous “Hallelujah” chorus is in part two, groups everywhere perform it as a part of their Christmas concerts.
“Messiah” was completed in 24 days - start to finish. That’s a stunningly short time for a piece or music which takes nearly three hours to perform in concert.
Handel began writing his oratorio on Aug. 22, 1741. He closed himself off from the world in his room refusing food, drink, and virtually not sleeping for three weeks.
At one point, a servant found the composer in tears at his desk.
He had just completed the “Hallelujah Chorus.” The master looked up at the concerned servant and said: “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.”
When asked about his penning of the “Messiah,” Handel replied, “Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it, I know not. God knows.”
When Handel finished the monumental effort of writing his “Messiah” in so short a period of time, he added the letters “SDG” at the end of the manuscript - Soli Deo Gloria, or in English, “To God Alone the Glory.”
The tradition of standing during the “Hallelujah Chorus” did not begin during the first performance in Dublin. It was the following year, during a performance in London, King George II was so moved by the chorus, he stood up. Naturally, when the king stands, everyone stands and this established a custom which exists to this day.
Handel died on April 14, 1759, in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey with full state honors.
Handel’s “Messiah” is just an incredible piece of music. I actually know most of it by heart (although I am by no means a musician.)
I listen to the entire score a number of times throughout the year. I listen to parts and portions a couple times a month.
In the past, I took dates to hear the oratorio performed by the Detroit Symphony with the Rackham Choir. Some liked it. Some did not and were left wondering (as did many of my dates!) what the deal was with this guy.
Truth be known, one dating relationship didn’t last because she insisted on demonstratively and noisily opening hard candies during the most moving portions of the work.
Her response to our breakup was, “I’d rather be listening to Steppenwolf anyway!”
There’s only so much a guy can take.
I once bought a date an “appropriate dress” to wear to the “Messiah.”
Even I admit that was a bit pretentious. WAY pretentious! (I’ve matured! I promise.)
I have attended performances of “Messiah” both in the U.S. and abroad - once on a farm in Israel.
I have mellowed and no longer carry the entire libretto with me (again, pretentious!)
I love Handel’s “Messiah.” I love other seasonal songs as well. I love most Christmas carols. For me, there are a lot of songs which really bring the holiday season to life.
But the “Messiah...”
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
- Luke 2:14