If you and I were to sit down for a coffee and reflect on Christmas memories what would come to mind?
One of the memories I have is of my father listening to Handel’s Messiah at least once during the Christmas season. That is how I was first introduced to this masterpiece.
Later I began to sing in choirs that performed this work and then I had the privilege of not only conducting some of the pieces from Handel’s Messiah but also singing the tenor solos.
Initially, Messiah was intended for Passion Week before Easter but certain portions have now become an important part of our annual Christmas tradition.
The complete “libretto,” (the words) of Messiah tells the whole story of God’s Good News – Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.
Probably the best known piece and perennial favourite from this large musical work is the Hallelujah Chorus with words taken from the last book of the Bible – Revelation.
Hallelujah is Hebrew for “Praise the Lord.”
Handel wrote it for a special fundraising concert, at an amazing pace, taking just 24 days, from Aug. 22 to Sept. 14, 1741.
The first performance of Messiah was in Dublin, Ireland and was written as a fundraiser for three charities (two hospitals and a jail).
During Handel’s lifetime it was almost always performed to raise money for orphans or hospitals or other needy causes.
More than 270 years ago the advertisement for the first concert had this warning for people who planned on going to the concert: Ladies should not “come with hoops,” and “Gentlemen are desired to come without their swords.”
This notice appeared because at that time, men wore 101-cm (40-inch) swords for dressy occasions and fashionable ladies put giant hoops in the bottoms of their trimmed skirts.
So many people were expected to attend the concert for Handel’s new masterpiece, that organizers didn’t think there would be enough room unless the concertgoers left their swords and hoops at home.
The words of Messiah are from the Bible but were chosen and arranged by Handel’s friend, Charles Jennens.
As has been so often said, “He is the Reason for the season.”
(Some of this information is taken from a book entitled The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader by Payne and Lenzo.)
– Henry Klassen is senior pastor of Gospel Chapel in Grand Forks