HandelAt this time of year, choirs the world over perform at least a portion of Handel’s great oratorio, “Messiah.” Nearly everyone recognizes the “Hallelujah” chorus from “Messiah.” Many among us have even sung that chorus, or perhaps even the entire oratorio.

A Brief History Lesson

What is the story behind the oratorio and the great composer himself? George Frideric Handel, today known as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque period, was at a career low point. Quoting from “The History of ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus from Handel’s ‘Messiah’,”

In 1741, Handel was heavily in debt following a string of musical failures. It seemed that his career was over and he may even be forced to go to debtors’ prison.

Things soon began to turn around for Handel, when “his friend Charles Jennens wrote a libretto taken from the Bible, based on the life of Jesus Christ, and gave it to Handel. Then, Handel was given funding by a group of charities…” Have you ever noticed how sometimes you have to hit bottom before God will give you a hand up?

choir and orchestra

An Inspired Miracle

Handel set Jennens’ words to music, including all of the solo and choral vocal parts, as well as the orchestration, in only 24 days. You may at this point be thinking, “Cool, that sounds like he wrote it pretty quickly,” but unless you have ever tried composing music, you don’t know the half of it.

My first bachelor’s degree was in Church Music. I have taken many courses in music theory, composition, and orchestration and can vouch for the fact that composition is not easy. I was called upon many times to write a piece of music. I always found it a huge challenge just to come up with an original musical phrase, let alone an entire piece. Then there’s the tasks of writing harmony for the melody, then parts for each voice in a vocal and/or instrumental ensemble.

I’m the first to admit that I am no genius composer but I have some idea of what Handel accomplished in writing his 260-page oratorio in just 24 days. I consider it a miracle. I have no doubt whatsoever that God inspired Handel in his work, just as He inspired the authors of the Bible.

Again quoting from the above blog post,

Handel composed Messiah without getting much sleep or even eating much food. When his assistants brought him his meals, they were often left uneaten. His servants would often find him in tears as he composed. When he completed ‘Hallelujah,’ he reportedly told his servant, ‘I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.’

I know just how he felt. I am a crier. It takes very little for me to break into tears while listening to or singing great worship music. I believe that God gave Handel a glimpse of Himself in glory and helped Handel musically describe the scene. God worked through both Jennens and Handel to give humanity an unparalleled work of music which is every bit as relevant, beautiful, and glorious as it was 275 years ago.

Evidence for God

People often have a hard time finding God, even when they are trying. Many claim that He does not exist. God has, however, given us many evidences of His existence, power, and presence. One of these is music, and Handel’s Messiah is one of the best examples of that wonderful art form. No one has ever seen God face to face but you can hear Him in “Messiah.” I heard Him again myself, listening to a CD again this Christmas season. And yes, I cried.

For more on Handel’s “Messiah,” check out this short video: Story Behind Handel’s Messiah