George Frideric Handel composed an English-language oratorio in 1741. Charles Jennens compiled the text from the King James Bible and readings from the Psalms found in the Book of Common Prayer. The first performance was presented in Dublin on April 13, 1742. Almost a year later, it debuted in London. Over time it gained in popularity and today is one of the best known choral works in history.
Handel gained his reputation as a composer of Italian opera. Messiah, his sixth work, does not follow the typical structure of an opera with character development, dramatic narrative, and direct speech. Originally, Handel’s work was written for smaller ensemble and instrument presentations. Mozart and others contributed grander vocal and orchestral revisions
In three parts, Handel and Jennens presented prophecies and declarations concerning Jesus as the Messiah. At the end of the second part, Handel placed the majestic chorus, Hallelujah. What has been referred to as the “Christmas portion” of the oratorio concludes with the chorus.
The tradition of standing for the chorus has a rather murky history. The most familiar account concerns King George II, king of England, who supposedly attended the London premiere on March 23, 1743. As the story goes, when the triumphant music began to fill the auditorium, the king was so moved that he stood to his feet. In those days, if the king stood, everyone stood.
One cynic smirked that the reason the king stood was that he was tired of sitting so long. The same result took place – when the king stood, everyone stood.
I like the first story better. There are any number of reasons why people are moved and emotions are stirred. What gets to you? A movie? A song? A beer commercial? A Hallmark Christmas special? I enjoy those, but it does seem that the stories are similar – just new character inserted. I’m a softie … the ending of Ole Yeller still gets to me.
What is truly sad is that some among us don’t seem to let anything get to them. Are we too busy? Have we grown callous, insensitive, too stoic? We can complain all we want about how commercialized Christmas has become, but behind all the glitter and glare is a story that will get to you … if you let it.
It’s a love story, meant for each of us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. He loves us so much that He wrapped our present in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger. He loves us so much that He offered the first Christmas gift to anyone who would receive it. I hope that the king of England stood that day because, through the glorious music, he heard the love story meant for him.