HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
December 18, 2006, Herald Journal

Handel’s ‘Messiah’ for Christmas


Handel’s “Messiah,” now a Christmas favorite, originally was written for Lent and Easter.

I suppose, though, the “Hallelujah Chorus” reminded listeners of when angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds on the hills outside of Bethlehem, and then sang “Hallelujah.” It is an important part of the Christmas account.

I have always associated the “Hallelujah Chorus” with the resurrection, though, because that is how I first heard it. When I was a little girl I saw the movie, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

After the scene in which Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the camera filming the movie rose into the air. It was probably mounted on a helicopter. As it went higher and higher into the sky, it showed people who were so electrified by witnessing someone raised from the dead, that they scattered in every direction to tell what they saw. The higher the camera went, the more people you saw fanning farther and farther out into the country.

At the same time, the music in the background was the “Hallelujah Chorus,” performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

It was thrilling. I later asked my mom what the music was. She told me, along with the story about King George II of England. She said it was impolite to sit in the presence of a king, unless the king himself was seated.

During the “Messiah’s” second performance in London, when King George heard the phrase “King of kings,” during the “Hallelujah Chorus,” he stood up to show respect for his king. Then everyone else in the concert hall stood up too. Ever since then, whenever the “Hallelujah Chorus” is performed, the audience traditionally stands.

When I was in high school, a teacher told me if it is possible for music to be inspired, the way Lutherans’ believe the Bible is inspired, then Handel’s “Messiah” definitely is.

The composition does have an unusual beginning. George Frederick Handel’s career was at a low ebb in 1740. He had a stroke, and his left side was partially paralyzed. Operas were out of style in England then, so Handel wrote the “Messiah,” as an oratorio in 21 days.

It wasn’t performed until a year later for Easter in Dublin to raise money for a hospital for underprivileged children. The “Messiah” also wasn’t nearly as popular during Handel’s lifetime as it is now.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I found out most people consider “Messiah” Christmas music. We now play our recording of it at Christmas also, although I always think of that first time I heard it.

Merry Christmas.