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Handel’s “Messiah”

To begin with, I should say that it was not difficult for me to choose the religious art work for that essay. I am keen on symphonic music, so on February 28, 2014 I was lucky to attend the Memphis Symphony Orchestra performance of Handel’s “Messiah” with the Rhodes MasterSingers Chorale at Evergreen Church, Memphis. It is traditionally performed during the Advent season before Christmas, and, frankly speaking, the event was a unique treat for me. So, this essay is devoted to the analysis of Handel’s “Messiah” from both religious and musical aspects.

Every minute spent at this concert was extraordinary one. I even cried with emotions, realizing greatness and beauty of human genius and love of people to this unique Handel’s work. The concert hall was full of such a bright and festive atmosphere that I do not wonder why people are so fond of this Handel’s masterpiece. I must say that a lot of young people were present there, who also sang oratorio with great inspiration and excitement. “Messiah” became the significant event in my life, and it did not only heal my soul from all kinds of wounds, but also filled it with the light of life and love. Handel was not just a brilliant musician. He was a great man, giving the light of his soul and love both to contemporaries of his time and future generations.

In his most famous oratorio “Messiah” (also called Christmas oratorio) Handel’s refers to the image of Christ. It could be called the great heroic praises as this XVIII century composition embodied in the form of a musical triptych, like those which were written on religious motifs by Renaissance masters. The oratorio can be divided into the following parts:  I. Jesus Christ birth and childhood; II. Feat; III. Triumph. It is performed by choir, orchestra and four singing voices. Handel’s “Messiah” represents the Christian baroque tradition. Taking the religious plot structure, he breathed into oratorio high social pathos and equipped it with the powerful means of expression which appeals to the inner parts of listener’s soul. Christian religious music of that time filled biblical scenes and chaacters with secular sense by painting church images with dramatic individualism and bold interpretation of the spiritual idea. It is full of difficult polyphonic musical combinations and vocal parties. Baroque music aspired to a high level of emotional fullness, people’s spirit and thoughts about God.

Christmas concerts usually include only the first part of the oratorio and choir “Hallelujah”. It embodies anxious expectation of the Messiah, the miracle of Christ’s birth and exultation in his honor. This is one of the most exciting and joyful musical piece because while listening to “Messiah” our souls are filled with hope, love and happiness, which little Jesus brought into our world. They say, when Handel composed “Messiah”, he cried because of beautiful music, going out of his pen.

It should be said that this wonderful oratorio was a miracle for Handel too. The researcher of Handel’s life and music Romain Rolland writes that when genus feel lost and their life seems to be ruined to the core, they are close to victory (57). In Handel’s life there was time when he lost the love of the public. Preferring Italian composers to Handel, English aristocrats became his enemies and stopped attending his concerts. The composer decided to leave England, where he lived for a quarter of century, and he announced that on April 8, 1741 he would have his last concert. However, Handel did not run out of power: in 24 days, from August 22 to September 14, the composer created one of his best oratorios – “Messiah.” When he finished working on it, Handel exclaimed “Hallelujah! I thought the sky had opened, and I saw the Creator.” It was one of the happiest moments in composer’s life. When he seemed to be defeated, he created a creature that was destined to strengthen his worldwide fame. What is more, the magic of “Messiah” also helps people to become better, kinder and more generous. It is deeply connected with the wonderful main theme of the musical work which reminds us about the biggest miracle – Christ’s birth.

The text for the oratorio was taken by Charles Jennens from the generally accepted among the English-speaking Protestant translation of Bible – King James Bible. Despite the lack of specific characters, the oratorio contains many solo and duet numbers: recitatives accompanied by harpsichord; lyrical and pastoral arias and duets; choirs which constitutes more than a quarter of the work; as well as few orchestral items.

The first part of the oratorio includes four scenes. It starts with Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation, and then goes the coming judgment, after that we hear the third scene, the prophecy of Christ’s birth, and the final one is the annunciation to the shepherds (“Messiah. A Sacred Oratorio”). Every scene includes four or five chorus items; some of them impressed me most of all. For example, №2 (tenor recitative) and №3 aria “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted” are both full of majesty, illuminated by joy. The choir “For unto us a child is born” (№12) fills us with light and tremor; and when plunging into its delicate beauty, we do not notice that choral parts are very difficult, intertwined in polyphonic fabric of the music. It is vividly decorated with violins passages. Orchestral pastoral №13 “Pifa” is built on authentic Italian melodies. In the sound of the strings, accompanying soprano recitatives №14-16, we hear the rustle of angels’ wings, flying to newborn Jesus. The choruses “Glory to God in the highest” and “Hallelujah” have enormous energy and can spiritually unite people.

In conclusion it should be said that the Handel’s message to humanity, embodied in his oratorio “Messiah”, is easy to understand. Miracles have place in our life, and when we feel that we do not have enough strength to live, we need to remember that we are not alone. Handel felt that magical influence of “Messiah” on his life, and he wanted people to feel all the joy of life, the happiness of existence, harmony, energy and beauty too. Handel was a true believer; he understood what it meant to be saved. Handel’s “Messiah” is one of the best examples of Baroque Christian music, as it appeals to both people’s heart and brains, and reminds humanity about love of God.


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