15 December, 2022
Pastor’s Viewpoint - December 13
Uniting Church Gilgandra
Handel’s Sacred “Messiah”
Bankrupt and facing debtors’ prison,
German-born composer, George Frideric
Handel (1685–1759) was deeplydepressed.
His oratorios, which had set sacred
scripture to music, once attracted
London’s Royal patronage, but their popularity
waned in favour of comedic
And his work was also the subject
of mounting controversy from within the
church. Clergymen and the Bishop of
London, had ruled that any scripture performed
in theatre was a blasphemy. It
ignited Handel’s anger but, nevertheless,
he found himself playing to empty theatres.
A devout Lutheran, Handel claimed
he knew his Bible: “better than any bishop,”
and delighted in the work of creating
music to illuminate sacred texts. He said
his richest edification came from reading
But he was no saint. Having an irritable
nature, he could swear in six languages!
Now at his lowest ebb, a friend,
Charles Jennens, gave him a set of lyrics
taken from the Bible and the Book of
Could Handel compose a musical
score to suit?
approached him, too. Could he compose
a work for a benefit performance “for the
relief of the prisoners in the several
gaols, and for the Support of Mercer’s
Hospital?” His commission would be
generous. Yes. It was a gift from heaven.
Initial inspiration grew into an obsession.
Sequestered in his room, Handel
worked tirelessly, skipped meals, and
finished the massive work Messiah in
only 24 days.
At the point of rounding-off the
Hallelujah Chorus, his servant discovered
him with tears in his eyes and he
explained “I did think, I did see all
Heaven before me, and the great God
Himself seated on His throne, with His
company of Angels.”
Of the 259 page score, Part One; the
story of Jesus’ birth, was achieved in
only six days. Part Two; the story of
Jesus’ death, in nine days and, Part
Three; the story of Jesus’ resurrection, in
Finalising the orchestration took a
further two days. It was an astonishing
creative feat, by anyone’s standards.
Messiah was a sensation. It premiered in
Dublin’s Fishamble Street Musick Hall
on April 17, 1742 to an over-capacity
crowd in a hall normally accommodating
“The demand for tickets was so
great, men were asked not to wear their
swords, and women to abandon their
hoops in their skirts.”
This allowed a further
100 people to fit into the audience.
The £400 raised by the concert,
released 142 men from prison. A year
later, Messiah was performed in London
to a modest audience. King George II
attended, and legend has it, that he stood
at the opening notes of the Hallelujah
Chorus, and the audience stood too.
Later it was claimed, the King sprang
to his feet to stretch his legs, but others
say the “Christian King of England”,
who is under divine authority, was so
inspired, he stood in reverence of his
Supreme Lord, the King of Kings… a
tradition that continues to this day.
Handel always considered the
Messiah an Easter piece but, since the
19th century, it is heard everywhere
mainly at Christmas-time. He completed
30 performances of the Messiah before
his death, but only once in a church — at
John Wesley attended
“I doubt if that congregation was ever
so serious at a sermon, as they were during
As the years progressed, the number
of performers increased.
The Handel Festivals staged at the
Crystal Palace from the 1850s drew on
4000 singers and an orchestra of 500
musicians. The audience often numbered
around 20,000 people.
In 1759, Handel
died the day before Easter, and a friend
noted: “He died as he lived — a good
Christian with a true sense of his duty to
God and to man”
Let Us Pray: “Heavenly Father ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God,’ (Psalm 42.1) and we thank-you for the inspirational power of Handel’s music, that awakens our hearts and vitalises your Holy word. Thank-you for your love of humanity as seen through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension and, we remember afresh, that it was not nails that held Him fast to the tree… it was His love for us. Amen.”