Written by Brent Brondyke, Music Pastor
On December 15, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. the choir and orchestra of Friendship Baptist church will present George Frideric Handel’s choral masterwork, Messiah. Several notable aspects make the work itself and the undertaking remarkable and unique.
Handel was born in Germany in 1685, but moved to London in 1712 and resided there until his death in 1759. He is really considered as much an English composer as a German one. In fact, he was buried in Westminster Abbey with full state rights.
By 1741, the year of Messiah’s composition, Handel was very famous. He had moved away from opera composition and was immersed in sacred oratorio, a major choral work with solos and orchestral accompaniment, but no dramatic elements. He had collaborated with librettist (composer of lyrics) Charles Jennens several times, and Jennens provided the text for Messiah, as well. He had high hopes that it would receive Handel’s greatest effort, writing to a friend , “I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excel all his former Compositions, as the Subject excels every other subject. The Subject is Messiah.” [cited from Donald Burows, Edition Peters, 1991]
Jennens took his text entirely from the Scripture itself, mostly the King James version. The text is organized in three parts. The first section highlights the prophecies of Messiah’s coming and the fulfillment of those prophecies. This section is often performed alone and commonly referred to as the “Christmas portion.” The second section deals with the sacrifice of Messiah on the cross for the redemption of mankind and concludes with the famous “Hallelujah” chorus. The third section focuses on the resurrection and the return of Christ.
Messiah takes about two and a half hours to perform in its entirety, so this is rarely done. It requires extreme artistry, by today’s standards, although Handel knew that the Dublin area where it premiered lacked skilled musicians and wrote to their level. Most modern professional ensembles consider particularly the vocal writing to be difficult, and, considering the work is often under-taken by amateurs, it can be a daunting task, indeed! The work was popular from its debut, and that has only grown since.
Despite its length and genius, Handel incredibly composed the entire work in 24 days! It is reported that he rarely ate or slept during its composition.
The work itself is truly unique, but so is Friendship’s undertaking its performance. Really it is the only piece of serious choral music we ever perform, having done a presentation in 2014. So, why do Messiah at all? It really is at the very edge of our abilities, and we have to invite a few guest musicians to help us pull it off. Well, its unique character, its enduring quality, and, foremost, its astounding assembly of Scriptural text make it well worth all the extra effort!
Another unique aspect of our presentation is the “cut” that we do. As noted, the entire work is rarely performed. The “Christmas portion” is often performed. But, we do most of the Christmas portion plus selections from the other two parts to offer a clear presentation of the Gospel message. One aspect that is not unique is that we will conclude with the wonderful “Hallelujah.” This has become a common practice.
We eagerly await the opportunity for you to come and share in its joy and beauty, a true celebration of our Messiah. Bring someone with you, and make sure you discuss afterward the texts that were shared.