H: Handel’s “Messiah” and the Art of Reinventing Oneself

Händel-Tolomeo-Autograph

While I was working on my master’s degree in music, one of my professors told us something that I thought was incredibly profound. “If you’re going to survive as artists,” he told us solemnly. “You’re going to have to become masters at reinventing yourselves.” I took this advice to heart, and it has served me well through the years.

One of the greatest examples of an artist who learned this principle comes from music history. George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), loved traditional Italian opera and saw it as the “opera of the nobility.” Unfortunately for him, he was living in England and not Italy. The English people were growing weary of Italian opera, and were beginning to demand entertainment that was in the English language.   After attempting to write Italian opera for a while (with not much success), Handel finally gave up on this effort and tried something new: English oratorio.

One result of this creative new effort was the Messiah, an oratorio which has become one of the best known and most frequently performed choral works in all of Western Music.

Handel’s Secrets

What were the secrets to Handel’s success? First, he maintained his artistic integrity while giving the people what they wanted. Instead of forcing his audience to try and learn a foreign language, he delivered an experience which didn’t just use the English language, but captured the beauty of the English language.

Handel’s use of text-painting is remarkable as well. Text-painting occurs when music is so masterfully written that it brings the text to life by actually sounding like the text. One of my favorite examples of this is a number from the Messiah entitled “All We Like Sheep.” The choir all sings in unison when stating “all we like sheep,” showing that all of mankind has something in common. But when the text says that we have all “gone astray,” the voices scatter and it seems as if every member of the choir is moving in a different direction. The result is quite effective, and helps the audience understand the meaning of the text simply by listening.

Of course, I truly believe that the primary reason for the Messiah’s success is the use of Scripture. Handel wanted to capture the English language at its best, and so he turned to a text which was taken directly from the King James Bible. Every word that is sung in this production is a quote from Scripture. Instead of being entertained by the words of some artist, audiences across the globe have flocked to concert halls and churches in order to hear the powerful words of God Himself, set to stunningly beautiful music.

In Isaiah 55:11, God says, “So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please.”

There is power behind the Word of God, and when modern artists weave the eternal truths of Scripture into their work, the results are profound and life-changing.

The Hallelujah Chorus, from Messiah – George Frederick Handel

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Photo Credit:  Handel-Tolomeo-Autograph, Public Domain.

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The Classics.jpg

This post was submitted as part of the A to Z Challenge, where participants agree to write an article that corresponds to each letter of the alphabet, posting every day of the month of April (except Sundays).

Here on The Artistic Christian,  my theme for the month is The Classics.  Each day I’ll examine a book, film, or work of art that has become a beloved classic and discuss what has made it such a success, and what eternal themes it contains that Christian artists can use as modern illustrations.

For daily reflections from my personal travels around the world, check out my companion blog, A Shepherd’s Reflections, where my theme for April is Reflections From Around the World.

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13 thoughts on “H: Handel’s “Messiah” and the Art of Reinventing Oneself

  1. I love this. There are sometimes three productions in Glasgow around Christmas – one in the cathedral (cold!), one in the modern concert hall (ordinary) and one in Kelvingrove Art Gallery, a Victorian building with a large, central area where the sound just soars to the roof. It’s my favourite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like this one would be my favorite, too! During a college choir trip we performed in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and I’ll never forget the sound of our voices soaring to the top of that domed ceiling… no matter what people say, the space you’re in really does matter!

      Like

  2. Normally in the states I just get to hear The Hallelujah Chorus, an Easter tradition for me. However, when I was studying abroad in England, I got to see the whole Messiah performed at the Royal Albert Hall. It is remarkable. Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely glad we decided to do that. I remember it being on something of a whim, so we ended up standing way up in the rafters. Which wasn’t a problem, since it’s about hearing and not so much seeing! Definitely worth seeing the whole thing life when you get the chance 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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