Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People

Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People

Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People

Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People


Handel's oratorio Messiah is a phenomenon with no parallel in music history. No other work of music has been so popular for so long. Yet familiarity can sometimes breed contempt -- and also misunderstanding.

This book by music expert Calvin Stapert will greatly increase understanding and appreciation of Handel's majestic Messiah, whether readers are old friends of this remarkable work or have only just discovered its magnificence.

Stapert provides fascinating historical background, tracing not only Messiah's unlikely inception but also its amazing reception throughout history. The bulk of the book offers scene-by-scene musical and theological commentary on the whole work, focusing on the way Handel's music beautifully interprets and illuminates the biblical text.

For anyone seeking to appreciate Handel's Messiah more, this informed yet accessible guide is the book to have and read.

(Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People is the newest volume in the flourishing Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies Series, edited by John D. Witvliet.)


Every year, Handel’s Messiah receives an untold number of performances around the world, often before very large audiences. in my part of the world, the Midwestern United States, they usually take place during Advent; for many, hearing or performing Messiah is almost a yearly ritual. and where people cannot attend a live performance, or when they prefer to take their music in the comfort of their own living room, then radio, television, and recordings expand the number of Messiah listeners by who knows how many. I recently checked www.archivmusik.com and found eighty-nine recordings of Messiah or excerpts from it. Even the number of people who perform Messiah is staggering. Rehearsed performances often have choirs whose singers number in the hundreds. Many thousands more, forgoing the rigors of rehearsal, perform Messiah at popular sing-alongs. the Messiah phenomenon has no parallel in music history. No work of music has survived, let alone thrived, on so many performances, good, bad, and indifferent, by and for so many people, year after year, for such a long time.

Many have tried to explain the phenomenon. Some attempts have been quite imaginative and interesting even as they severely test one’s credulity. I heard one explanation claim that the annual trek to hear Messiah is a kind of Protestant fertility rite (never mind that for many of us it happens in December!). Most explanations, however, end up saying little more than that Handel, a very good composer, had in Charles Jennens’s compilation of Scripture texts an exceptionally fine libretto that inspired him to a peak performance. But that will hardly do to explain the phenomenon that is Handel’s Messiah. Composers at . . .

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