For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
I’m always torn when writing the title… one of my professors in college threw a fit when someone referred to this work as Handel’s Messiah. He told the student (thankfully it was not me) that it is simply MESSIAH and it’s not necessary to preface it with the author’s last name. So, I split the difference – I didn’t put Handel’s name in the main title but added it on to the banner. Everyone happy? Good. Let’s move on and talk about this magnificent work.
The oratorio Messiah by George Frederic Handel, although clearly stating “To God alone the glory,” was still met with skepticism and some even considered the work to be blasphemous! Can you imagine? It reminds me of the split reaction witnessed in my generation when “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” were released. No, it’s not Handel, but you get my drift, right?
So, Handel thought he could fan the flames a bit by scheduling the premiere in Ireland instead of London because he didn’t want to be close to the Anglican Bishops. He also advertised the piece as A Sacred Oratorio instead of emphasizing the name Messiah.
As most of us know, the piece depicts the life of Christ and not just one aspect. It was written for Easter originally since it ends with the popular and majestic Hallelujah Chorus. Actually, only the first third of the work is dedicated to the birth of Christ. The second act is about the death of Christ and the third act of course focuses on His resurrection. It premiered in the spring during the Lent season.
But here’s what transpired… Laurence Cummings, the conductor of the London Handel Orchestra, determined that the work would be fitting for Christmas, noting that there is so much fine Easter music already, but very little music for Christmas. By the 19th century, Messiah quickly became a Christmas staple, especially in the United States.
It blows my mind that Handel wrote the 259-page score in about 24 days with minimal errors. Richard Luckett, author of Handel’s Messiah: A Celebration, writes that there are some uncorrected errors or blotted out notes, but remarkably few mistakes considering the speed in writting the score.
We’re reminded by Lucinda today that Jesus is the Way to have life eternal in Heaven. Aren’t we thankful?
For Unto Us a Child Is Born is my favorite portion of Messiah that addresses the birth of Christ. I once had the amazing opportunity to sing in a choir that performed this work and it’s probably the most challenging cantata I’ve been part of – but it was such fun to learn, and as an alto, it kept me on my toes. There is so much back and forth, especially in this song. If you lose your place you’d better just drop out until you figure out where you are – you could be singing along with the tenors if you aren’t careful.