Dec 6, 2005

George Frederic Handel

In 1741, George Frederic Handel was genuinely discouraged. His health was failing, audiences had deserted him, and he was deeply in debt. Seeing no hope for the future, his music, or his life, he was ready to retire in disgrace.

It seems that God had other plans for Handel. Two challenges almost simultaneously set before him changed his life and the map of the musical world. From a Dublin charity, he received a commission to compose a piece of music for a benefit concert. From Charles Jennings, a wealthy friend, he received a libretto based exclusively on Bible texts.

With that libretto in hand, Handel went into a feverish work mode. For three weeks, beginning on August 22, he confined himself to his small house on Brook Street in London. From early in the morning into the night, he rarely left his music paper, ink, and pens. A friend who visited at that time reported having seen Handel weeping with intense emotion. Later, as Handel related the compositional experience, he quoted St. Paul’s words: “Whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it, I know not.”

At one point a servant came into Handel’s room to deliver a tray of food. He reported having seen a wild expression in his employer’s eyes; a weeping Handel refused the food and exclaimed, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” He had just completed what has become the most-performed choral movement in history, the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

After six days of this incredibly concentrated work, Handel had completed Part 1. Part 2 took him nine days, and Part 3 another six. In two more days—to complete the orchestration—the masterpiece called the Messiah was finished. In the unbelievably brief span of twenty-four days, Handel had filled two hundred sixty pages of manuscript.

One of Handel’s many biographers, Sir Newman Flower, gave this summation: “Considering the immensity of the work, and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition.”

And musicologist Robert Myers has stated that the music and its powerful message “has probably done more to convince thousands of mankind that there is a God about us than all the theological works ever written.”

Handel’s own aspirations for this masterpiece were revealed after the fist London performance of Messiah. When the concert ended, Lord Kinnoul congratulated Handel on the superb “entertainment.” Handel’s reply? “ My lord, I should be sorry if I only entertain them; I wish to make them better.”

With such a spiritual purpose, it is no surprise that the Lord blessed this talented man with a special grace to compose such a powerful piece.

In the midst of a depression, did Handel set out to writ the most celebrated choral music of all time? Probably not. But Handel was a man listening to the voice of God. Struck with the power of the words of Scripture, he opened himself to the Holy Spirit and let the Spirit work through him to produce what can be described as a wonder.

Although you and I might not produce the world’s next choral Messiah, each of us can be ever listening to the voice of God—as He speaks through the Scriptures, through opportunities set before us, through friends, directly to our spirits. And we, too, can produce masterpieces. As you step out in faith, remember God’s promise:

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isa. 30:21)

Taken from Spiritual Moments with the Great Composers by Patrick Kavanaugh

Pictures taken from

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