George Frederick Handel wrote the most powerful oratorio ever written in my estimation. It is called The Messiah and was originally composed for Easter. The highlight of Handel’s Messiah is the now famous “Hallelujah Chorus.” The words are profound and yet few in number. The entirety of the Hallelujah chorus is as follows:
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
The kingdom of this world
Is become the Kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ,
And He shall reign forever and ever.
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,
And He shall reign forever and ever.
But this is to get ahead of myself. To understand how this glorious piece of music came to be, we must understand a few things about the man himself.
Handel was born in Germany in 1685 and from early years, his musical talent did not go unnoticed. After flunking out of college, he moved to Hamburg at the age of eighteen and began to write operas. He quickly became very popular writing oratorios which were intended to be dramatic musical presentations of biblical stories written for choruses, but featuring strong soloists as well. Handel became known as the “king of the oratorios.”
His fame continued to spread, but not to his head it seems as he maintained a genuine humility about his achievements. This, in spite of the fact that he was only twenty-five years old and was by this time becoming known as one of the leading composers in all of Europe. Handel was in his groove, fulfilling his calling in life to be both a musician while at the same time using his musical skills as a way of propagating his faith in Christ.
In time, the top musicians in England sent Handel an invitation to join them in London. Soon after joining his colleagues in London, Handel was appointed as the director of the Royal Academy of Music, a very prestigious honor. Now he had achieved everything. Fame, Fortune, and a Following. But beneath the surface, Handel’s life was beginning to unravel.
In a matter of years, Handel went from the pinnacle of success to the pit of despair. During this season of life, Handel’s health began to unravel which led to less productivity which led to unpaid bills. This continued until there appeared to be no way out.
George Frederick Handel was a legally blind “washed-up has-been” living in poverty, frail as a hummingbird, mired in a deep depression, suffering from the debilitating effects of several strokes, mired down by rheumatism and barely able to walk, with his best work (or so he imagined anyway) long since passed. And this all before he had even reached the ripe old age of 40!
Just when there appeared to be no way out, Handel received a letter from the Duke of Devonshire, a man by the name of Charles Jennens. He conceived the idea of holding several benefit concerts in Dublin to provide funds for the support of several jails and a hospital. Jennens had the vision to prepare an oratorio on the most important stories in the Bible that centered on the Messiah. Jennens had the vision but neither the talent nor the time to begin or complete this work. Handel did.
In just twenty-four days Handel completed this masterful work with a deep sense of God’s presence guiding him every step of the way. He wrote, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God himself.”
It is impossible to remain seated when either singing or hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” The only two appropriate postures are prostrate on the ground as before the presence of a king, or standing as before the presence of a king.
The Messiah gave Handel a second chance at life, but more than that, it has given all of humanity one of the most powerful songs ever written.
Handel went on to live another seventeen years after completing the Messiah before his death in 1759. Handel died just as all mortals do. But his music, inspired by the living God, lives on (some of this information gathered from the book More Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, 2006 Ace Collins, pp. 13-20).
Listen to the “Hallelujah Chorus” by clicking on it.
Still stirred by the simple yet profound words,