Saturday, December 21, 2013

Handel's Messiah: Historical Background

 All these years, I never learned the story!  A friend sent me this:


“In 1737 Handel’s opera company went bankrupt, and he suffered what seems to be a mild stroke...Once the composer for royalty, he was now threaten with debtor’s prison. Deeply depressed, Handel was visited by his friend Charles Jennens. The wealthy, devout Anglican had written a libretto about the life of Christ and the work of redemption, with the text completely taken from the Bible. A fussy perfectionist, Jennens had written it to challenge the deists who denied the divinity of Jesus. 

Would Handel compose the music for it? he asked. Handel answered that he would and estimated completion in a year. Soon thereafter, a group of Dublin charities approached Handel to compose a work for a benefit performance. The money raised would help free men from debtor’s prison...Now with a text and a motivation, Handel began composing Messiah on August 22, 1741. Within six days, Part One was finished. In nine more, Part Two. Six more and Part Three was done. It took him only an additional two days to finish the orchestration...He rarely left his room and rarely touched his meals. But in 24 days he had composed 260 pages...

When he finished writing what would become known as the Hallelujah Chorus, he said “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.” ...The premiere on April 13, 1742 at Fishamble Street Musick Hall was a sensation. An overcapacity crowd of 700 people attended, raising 400 pounds to release 142 men from prison.”

George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) as recounted in 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville: Christianity Today, 2000), p. 113-114.

Last night, Jenni and I attended Handel’s Messiah in downtown Denver. It was performed by the Colorado Bach Ensemble and directed by James Kim. It is likely that we will look back on the Christmas season 2014 and say this was the most sacred and precious memory for few experiences exalt Scripture’s Messiah with such magnificence. 

Of course we just love that Handel performed this oratorio not for personal gain for the purpose of setting people free from financial slavery. Though originally performed at Easter, it has also become a Christmas tradition because the three movements proclaim the prophecies, the passion, and the promise of Messiah, our the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you live anywhere near Boulder or Fort Collins, CO, we urge you to attend one of their final two performances on December 21 or 22, 2013. Should this be too far to travel, for about the price of a ticket, we commend to you our personal favorite three CD set: John Eliot Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists, Philips 1982. Check it out on Amazon.

Generosity Monk 11318 West Ontario Ave, Littleton, CO 80127 303.888.6052 |

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Article: Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs

Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs - Russell Moore

...We ought to make sure that what we sing measures up with the, as this fellow would put it, “narrative tension” of the Christmas story.
The first Christmas carol, after all, was a war hymn. Mary of Nazareth sings of God’s defeat of his enemies, about how in Christ he had demonstrated his power and “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk. 1:52). There are some villains in mind there.
Simeon’s song, likewise, speaks of the “fall and rising of many in Israel” and of a sword that would pierce the heart of Mary herself. Even the “light of the Gentiles” he speaks about is in the context of warfare. After all, the light, the Bible tells us, overcomes the darkness (Jn. 1:5), and frees us from the grip of the devil (2 Cor. 4).
In a time of obvious tragedy, the unbearable lightness of Christmas seems absurd to the watching world. But, even in the best of times, we all know that we live in a groaning universe, a world of divorce courts and cancer cells and concentration camps. Just as we sing with joy about the coming of the Promised One, we ought also to sing with groaning that he is not back yet (Rom. 8:23), sometimes with groanings too deep for lyrics... 
Read More:   Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Food for Thought: Sacred Music

I read this interesting article:   I Don’t Like The Song In My Head… But I Might Need It
Historically, it is interesting to see that simplicity is common.  Kyrie pieces had the same two phrases over and over, often with complex musical setting.  Psalm Chant from the synagogue/monastic tradition same tune phrase over and over, often to accomodate a complex psalm.