Handel's Messiah Title Page

Music is one of the most beloved expressions of the Christmas season capturing our hearts to contemplate the true meaning of the season ~ the birth of Jesus. There are many famous Christmas carols each with a beautiful message: Silent Night, Away in a Manger, O Holy Night, Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful

George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)

Handel’s Messiah stands alone in the realm of musical accomplishments. The original Messiah was written in only 24 days finishing on September 14, 1741.  It is noteworthy that “the autograph score’s 259 pages show some signs of haste such as blots, scratchings-out, unfilled bars and other uncorrected errors, but according to the music scholar Richard Luckett the number of errors is remarkably small in a document of this length”.

Handel’s Messiah was first performed on April 13, 1742 during the Easter season in a small music hall in Dublin, Ireland. The orchestra in Dublin comprised strings, two trumpets, and timpani; the number of players is unknown. Handel had his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performances; a harpsichord was probably also used. The oratorio was conducted by the composer himself.

Legend has it that in 1743, the British monarch King George II was so moved by Handel’s Hallelujah chorus that he stood out of respect for the “Lord of Lords,” the only authority above his own. When the king stands, everybody stands. And since then everyone stands.  I think this is a wonderful tradition because today, we stand to honor the King of Kings.

In 1902, the musicologist Ebenezer Prout produced a new edition of the score, working from Handel’s original manuscript, adding flutes, clarinets and trombones to Handel’s orchestration. He restored Handel’s high trumpet parts, which Mozart had previously omitted (evidently because playing them was a lost art by 1789).

Today, Handel’s Messiah is recognized around the world and performed by massive choirs and orchestras.  Have you ever sang Handel’s Messiah?  What part did you sing?  What is your favorite part of the music?