Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Messiah

I love listening to and singing Christmas music during the Christmas season. Some of my favorite include “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “Oh Holy Night, and “Hark The Herald Angles Sing” (when I was young I would imagine the title to be “Hark the Harold Angels Sing”). One of the most recognized titles is the “Hallelujah” Chorus from G. F. Handel’s Messiah. Ask anyone and they can come up with some of the words to that chorus. If you have been in any choir, you probably sang many songs from the Messiah including the Hallelujah Chorus. I have had several opportunities to be a part of presenting the Messiah in concert.

One of my favorite was when we were living in Southwest Washington. The Vancouver Washington Stake, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, performed the Messiah for the Vancouver Washington and Portland Oregon area one Christmas. There were six soloists and 60 choir members (I sang tenor). The opportunity to be part of that presentation has always been one of the most memorable Christmas seasons I have had. My testimony of Christ’s birth was reborn as one of the soloists sang “Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive” and as we sang “For Unto Us a Child is Born”. My love for the Savior was intensified as another soloist sang “He Was Despised” and we sang “Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs” and “His Yoke is Easy, and His Burthen is Light”. The Spirit entered into our hearts and testified to everyone of the resurrection and the glory of the Lord as the soprano sang “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” and we ended with the “Hallelujah” Chorus.

For Unto Us a Child is Born

The text for Messiah was written by Charles Jennens. He compiled the text from the King James Bible – mostly from Isaiah and the Palms and some of the new testament scriptures of the Savior’s birth, suffering, crucifixion and resurrection. Jennens gave Handle the text sometime in July 1741 and Handle began composing the music on August 22, 1741 and took him only 24 days to finish his work consisting of 259 pages of music.

“The three-part structure of the work approximates to that of Handel's three-act operas, with the "parts" subdivided by Jennens into "scenes". Each scene is a collection of individual numbers or "movements" which take the form of recitatives, arias and choruses.[16] There are two instrumental numbers, the opening Sinfony[n 2] in the style of a French overture, and the pastoral Pifa, often called the "pastoral symphony", at the mid-point of Part I.

“In Part I, the Messiah's coming and the virgin birth are predicted by the Old Testament prophets. The annunciation to the shepherds of the birth of the Christ is represented in the words of Luke's gospel. Part II covers Christ's passion and his death, his resurrection and ascension, the first spreading of the gospel through the world, and a definitive statement of God's glory summarised in the "Hallelujah". Part III begins with the promise of redemption, followed by a prediction of the day of judgment and the "general resurrection", ending with the final victory over sin and death and the acclamation of Christ.[20] According to the musicologist Donald Burrows, much of the text is so allusive as to be largely incomprehensible to those ignorant of the biblical accounts.[16] For the benefit of his audiences Jennens printed and issued a pamphlet explaining the reasons for his choices of scriptural selections.” (“Messiah (Handel)).

One of the real life stories from the Messiah is of the vocalist Susannah Cibber. Susannah was a prominent English actress and singer. Handle and Susannah became friends and he used her in several of his operas. Susannah married playwright Theophilus Cibber but their marriage was troubled. Susannah’s husband forced her to sleep with a friend of his and Susannah and the friend fled. They had a child together which lead to custody hearings and scandal. Susannah’s reputation was in ruins at the time Handle was working on the Messiah. Handle had moved to Dublin, Ireland where he was invited to continue with his musical career. Susannah had fled to Dublin to get away from the scandals in London. The two found each other in Dublin and Handle asked her to be one of the soloists in the Messiah.

During the first performance of the Messiah Susannah sang the solo “He Was Despised”. It tells of the Savior being despised and rejected and the suffering he endured at the hands of the Roman Soldiers. The words to the song are:

He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with
Grief. (Isaiah 53:3)

He gave his back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off
The hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6)

He Was Despised

Because of the persecution Susannah endured in London and her rejection by the people her singing that piece was full of emotion and her quest for forgiveness. In the audience was a Dublin clergyman, Rev. Delaney, and he was so moved by Susannah’s performance and knowing her tragic story he rose and said: "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!" (“Messiah (Handel)). The profits from this first performance of the Messiah went to three charities securing the release of 142 indebted prisoners. The Messiah tells the story of how the Atonement of Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins and we can be released from spiritual prison and with this first performance the prisoners were literally released from their temporal prison.

The Messiah is one of the greatest of all the musical pieces that has been ever written and the fact that it has been performed almost every year since Handle and Jennens wrote it in 1741 is proof of it’s enduring message of hope, redemption, forgiveness and life after death. I know the message is true and that if we will take the time to listen to the music and the words we will feel the spirit of the Holy Ghost testifying of it truth.

The Messiah has come, and he will come again.

The Hallelujah Chorus

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