The story goes that after the first performance of Messiah, an enthusiastic member of the audience congratulated composer and director George Frideric Handel for producing such a wonderful piece of “entertainment.”
“Entertainment!” Handel replied, “My purpose was not to entertain, but to teach them something.”
It has been said, if education was, indeed, his primary concern, it has hardly been an unqualified success, for few have appreciated the power of the words sung or heard.
In almost every community during this Christmas season, there will be performances of Messiah. It is available in a number of recorded versions. Set aside some time this Christmas to listen to Handel’s masterpiece. Learn the melodies. Hum along and let the words sink into your heart.The Virginia Symphony will be performing it in Williamsburg and at Regents University this season.
Handel didn’t write Messiah for music historians or classical music geeks. He wrote it to tell the story of Jesus to ordinary people, through music, the language of the heart.
The oratorio’s structure follows the liturgical year: Part I corresponding with Advent, Christmas, and the life of Jesus; Part II with Lent, Easter, the Ascension, and Pentecost; and Part III with the end of the church year—dealing with the end of time. The birth and death of Jesus are told in the words of the prophet Isaiah, the most prominent source for the libretto. The only true “scene” of the oratorio is the annunciation to the shepherds which is taken from the Gospel of Luke. The imagery of shepherd and lamb features prominently in many movements, for example: in the aria “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd” (the only extended piece to talk about the Messiah on earth), in the opening of Part II (“Behold the Lamb of God”), in the chorus “All we like sheep”, and in the closing chorus of the work (“Worthy is the Lamb”).
The glorious English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible, and from the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. Most of his quotations come from the Old Testament. It is one of the best known and most beloved choral works ever, spanning 4 1/2 hours to perform in its entirety. He wrote the entire oratorio in 22 days.
Oratorio means “oratory by music.” Oratorios were originally designed to educate people in significant portions of the Bible. They date back to the time when Bibles were so expensive that few could afford them, and of the few who could, fewer still were sufficiently educated to be able to read them. To overcome the barriers of ignorance, or unavailability of the Scriptures, the great texts of the Bible were put to music, and men were taught to learn and sing them. Some of this sacred music of the past is now incorporated in the hymns familiar to people all over the world; particularly the Psalms of David.
We are so blessed these days, there is a Bible in every Christian home and sometimes several more than one! This does not mean we can not learn by other ways, such as an Oratorio like Messiah.
Here is just one rendition of the Oratorio, Messiah: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3TUWU_yg4s
Enjoy this Christmas Season!