Some of you, I hope many, have at least heard the Hallelujah Chorus, (see below) of this great classical composition. What most folks do not know is the history and biblical references associated with Georg Frideric Handel’s masterpiece.
George Frideric Handel’s Messiah was originally an Easter offering. It burst onto the stage of Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The audience swelled to a record 700, as ladies had heeded pleas by management to wear dresses “without Hoops” in order to make “Room for more company.” Handel’s superstar status was not the only draw; many also came to glimpse the contralto, Susannah Cibber, then embroiled in a scandalous divorce.
The men and women in attendance sat mesmerized from the moment the tenor followed the mournful string overture with his piercing opening line: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” Soloists alternated with wave upon wave of chorus, until, near the midway point, Cibber intoned: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” So moved was the Rev. Patrick Delany that he leapt to his feet and cried out: “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!” – Smithsonian Magazine
Librettist Charles Jennens, who was a close friend and collaborator with Handel, used the biblical stories of Jesus for the Messiah’s text. Jennens described his work as “a meditation of our Lord as Messiah in Christian thought and belief.”
But only the first third of the work was about the birth of Jesus. The second act covers the death of Jesus and the third focused on his resurrection. As such, the piece was originally conceived as a work for Easter and was premiered in the spring during the Lent season. – BSO Website
Handel’s Messiah like most works has a title with explanation. In this piece we find these words (Purple) following the title Messiah:
A Sacred Oratorio
Majora Canamus (Virgil, Eclogue IV)
Let us Sing of Greater Things (Lit. let us elevate our singing)
And without controversy, great is the Mystery of Godliness: God was manifested in the Flesh, justified by the Spirit, seen of
Angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the World, received up in Glory (1 Timothy 3:16)
Even before the first note is struck, the theme is clear, Christ as the redeemer in Glory.
In whom are hid all the Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge (Colossians 2:3)
Unlike many songs, hymns and such the writer chose original (JKV) biblical verses as the text for his piece. He begins with Isaiah 40:1-3 proclaiming comfort and ends with Revelation 5:12, 13 crying Worthy is the Lamb.
The best source on the text of Handel’s Messiah I have found is here: A Guide to the Original Source Texts for Handel’s Messiah
To start here is the clip of the Hallelujah Chorus I mentioned earlier.
Here is a video of the whole performance