All these years, I never learned the story! A friend sent me this:
GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL: MESSIAH'S PREMIERE FREED 142 MEN FROM DEBTOR'S PRISON
“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.