Christmas Music: Handel’s Messiah

Growing up, from age 15 to about 20, I would sing the choir for our Stake’s performances of Handel’s Messiah. Our stake would perform Messiah at Christmas and Easter every year, and it was something that I looked forward too with great joy. The first year my mom invited me to come and sing in the choir, I thought I had made it to the apex of my choral singing experience because as far as my little 15 year old brain was concerned, Messiah was the pinnacle of all music ever written. My forty-somethin-somethin self still thinks that and, Messiah continues to be my most favorite work to sing.

I came across a Messiah concert this last week broadcast from Trinity Church in New York City. I loved the fact that the orchestra was a very small one and had period appropriate instruments and a very small choir — as it would have been performed in Handel’s day. The concert was held at the St Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan. This church is historically significant for two reasons in particular. After George Washington was inaugurated as president he attended a church service at St. Paul’s and after September 11th, this was one of the few buildings in the radius of the World Trade Center that was not damaged. In fact, the church served as a sort of command center for emergency response personnel. The church yard is also the burial ground for many important American’s such as Alexander Hamilton. Greatest choral work ever written + historical church = one happy me.

Now, if you’re me you listen to the whole concert twice in an afternoon and grab your Messiah score and sing along both times. If you’re not me and don’t have six extra hours to spend, here are some highlights to fill your ears with. There are a lot of highlights I could include and this was hard to whittle it down to just a few. I decided to omit For Unto Us a Child is Born and the Hallelujah Chorus, mostly because we all know those songs quite well and they get plenty of time in the spotlight. Here are a few other selections that are just as deserving of that spotlight.

Click here for a list of the scriptural texts used in the work.

Click here for a short history of how Messiah came to be written.

And the Glory of the Lord, is the first time the choir sings. The text is taken from Isaiah 40: 5, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together:for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” His glory will be revealed to all of us, and as it says in the New Testament “When he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion. This song starts out with an alto solo, which is sometimes sung by a contra-tenor. The text is taken from Isaiah 40: 9, “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” What an invitation, “Be not afraid! Behold your God!”

Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of Zion. The text for this is found in the Old Testament, in Zechariah 9: 9, ” Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee. He is the righteous Savior!” I chose a clip of my favorite soprano Diana Damrau singing this, you should also take a listen to her singing the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute. But here in this song, again, we have another invitation, to rejoice greatly in Jesus Christ!

Bonus track: I Know That My Redeemer Liveth

O Death Where Is Thy Sting? This passage has been particularly meaningful for me this year. I read this at my mother’s funeral in February, and it has been something that has brought me great comfort over these past few months. The text comes from the Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15: 55-57, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? 56. The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Trumpet Shall Sound. Again from 1 Corinthians 15, Paul teaches us about the glorious ressurrection of the dead. Verse 52, “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed”.

As we approach Christmas this next week, let’s remember the love our Heavenly Father has shown us by sending His son Jesus Christ to help us rejoice, to save us from sin and death, to make us beautifully changed and incorruptible.

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About Joyce Anderson

Joyce is a mother, wife, sister, school teacher, Bulgarian speaker, conservative, lover of good music, social media junky and a two time culinary arts Grand Champion bread baker. She and the family reside in a remote mountain community where great discoveries have been made. When not changing the world, she enjoys the occasional bowl of chips and salsa. She can be found at: http://pinterest.com/TheAtomicMom

5 thoughts on “Christmas Music: Handel’s Messiah

  1. I have long believed, more or less tongue in cheek, that there are pieces of music that happen to be our Heavenly Father’s favorites. So he inspires mortal composers to produce them, in roughly the same way your own dad might have turned up his favorite song on the radio while you were in the back seat, so you could hear some “good music–not that garbage you listen to!” 🙂 The Messiah is such a piece.

  2. This was a great overview! I loved your descriptions. One obscure part I like is “he trusted in God that he would deliver him, let him deliver him, if he delight in him.” I know it’s what the faithless will say, but something about the irony of it—that because God loved US, he did NOT deliver His son, though he did delight in him—and because of that, WE are delivered—just gets me every time. And the music is fugue-ish and beautiful.

  3. One of my favorite parts of the Messiah is the Easter-y section taken from Isaiah 53 – the ‘man of sorrows’, sung by a countertenor or alto, is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard.
    But then, I’m the nerd who convinced my family a few years back to center our scripture study around the passages from Handel’s Messiah in the month preceding Christmas, and listen to the corresponding section of music.

  4. Lattertarian — agree with you on that.

    Marylin — I love it, “fugue-ish”. I think that was Handel’s specialty. Of course it’s also Baroque, so there’s that.

    EC: Messiah was first performed as an Easter performance. I like the Easter parts too. It was hard to narrow down to just four choices with this.

  5. Two minor notes. Alexander Hamilton is buried at Trinity Church, not St. Paul’s. And, after 9/11, St. Paul’s wasn’t a command center. The clergy at St. Paul’s and volunteers ministered to rescue and relief workers, providing food, rest, counseling, etc., to people who were working at the World Trade Center site.

    And I agree about Messiah. Wonderful music!

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