Sunday, April 21, 2019

Handel's "Messiah": the music that might not have been

While we usually hear The Messiah played around Christmas, Handel originally wrote it (and it was first performed) for Easter.  But the music very well might never have been written at all.  You see, the young Handel was a bit of a hot head and got into a duel in 1704:
Scholars speculate that [Johann] Mattheson requested Handel to fill in as conductor while Mattheson sang. After Mattheson performed his part on stage he went to return to the conductor’s seat at the harpsichord. But Handel would not move.
Johann Mattheson
It’s said that the two argued over who should be in the conductor’s seat – Mattheson, being the composer, wanted control, yet Handel refused to leave the post. Mattheson suggested that the two take their quarrel outside. And so, right outside of the theater, the hot-headed young composers drew their swords and conducted, instead, a duel. A detailed account of the duel cannot be found, yet one prevailing report suggests that Handel was nearly killed by a sword thrust from Mattheson. The thrust went right for his heart, but, thankfully, ran into a large metal button on his coat, which prevented Handel’s death. As the duel came to a close, the two composers miraculously reconciled and became life-long friends. They maintained correspondence even after Handel moved to London to live out the rest of his stellar career.
That might have been it for Herr Handel, 38 years before his masterpiece.  And even then, it was claimed that is wasn't even his masterpiece.  Handel wrote the entire score in just 24 days, while staying at the grand country estate of a patron, Charles Jennens.  Jennens liked to dabble in the arts, and adapted the text of the Bible for the piece.  He said in a letter to a friend that Handel wrote some "pretty music" for "his" (Jennens') piece.  All righty, then.

But the Spirit must have moved Handel, because there is more triumph in a single word - the Amen chorus - than in just about any music I know.  The finale (about 6:30 into this recording) precisely captures that feeling of awe, and triumph, and joy to be in this world that I remember from those Easter Sundays years ago.

Worthy Is The Lamb (Revelations 5:12 - 14, music by George Frederic Handel)

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,
and hath redeemed us to God by his blood,
to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour,
and glory, and blessing. 

Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him
that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.



libertyman said...

An exhibition of musical genius, there is no other word for it. Four part harmony and the score for the instruments show what a creative mind Handel had.

I can imagine this being performed in a cathedral like Notre Dame, or Chartres, now that would be amazing.

Thank you for doing this,what a wonderful post.

Happy Easter to you and yours.

Borepatch said...

Libertyman, I really like it that you enjoy these posts. Happy Easter!

Old NFO said...

Happy Easter and yes, fantastic music!

LSP said...

Beautiful. Happy (belated) Easter!