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   Tribute to Handel's Messiah

Music Clips
Scripture Lyrics Messiah Bible in Song
Psalm 2:1,2

Why do the nations so furiously rage

Psalm 2:3 Let us break their bonds asunder
Psalm 2:4 He that dwelleth in heaven
Psalm 2:9 Thou shalt break them
Psalm 19:4 Their sound is gone out  
Psalm 24:7-10 Lift up your heads, O ye gates    
Romans 8:33,34

If God be for us


Handel's Messiah
George Frederic Handel (1695-1759)

PART ONE : The prophesy and realization of God's plan to redeem mankind by the coming of the Messiah

(1) Overture Sinfony

(2) Comfort Ye  Recitative (Tenor or Soprano)
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
(Isaiah 40:1-3)

(3) Every Valley  Air (Tenor or Soprano)
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.
(Isaiah 40:4)

(4) And the Glory of the Lord Chorus
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
(Isaiah 40:5)

(5) Thus saith the Lord Recitative (Bass)
Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts; Yet once a little while and I will shake the heav'ns and the earth, the sea and the dry land: And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come.
(Haggai 2:6-7)
The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.
(Malachi 3:1)

(6) But who may abide the Day of His Coming?  Air (Alto or Bass)
But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner's fire.
(Malachi 3:2)

(7) And He shall Purify  Chorus
And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
(Malachi 3:3)

(8) Behold A Virgin Shall Conceive  Recitative (Alto or Counter Tenor)
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, GOD WITH US.
(Isaiah 7:14Matthew 1:23)

(9) O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion  Air (Alto) & Chorus
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God! O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, (Isaiah 40:9)
Arise, shine, for thy Light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Isaiah 60:1)

(10) For behold, darkness shall cover the earth  Recitative (Bass)
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
(Isaiah 60:2-3)

(11) The people that walked in darkness Air (Bass)
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

(12) For unto Us a Child is born Chorus
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6)

(13) Pastoral Symphony (Pifa)

(14) There were shepherds abiding in the field Recitative (Soprano)
There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
(Luke 2:8)

(15) And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them Recitative (Soprano)
And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.
(Luke 2:9)

(16) And the Angel said unto them Recitative (Soprano)
And the angel said unto them: Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
(Luke 2:10-11)

(17) And suddenly there was with the Angel  Recitative (Soprano)
And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying:
(Luke 2:13)

(18) Glory to God Chorus
Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men.
(Luke 2:14)

(19) Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion Air (Soprano or Tenor)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.
(Zecharaiah 9:9-10)

(20) Then shall the eyes of the blind Recitative (Soprano or Alto)
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.
(Isaiah 35:5-6)

(21) He shall feed his flock like a shepherd Aria (Soprano or Alto)
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
(Isaiah 40:11)
Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, an He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
(Matthew 11:28-29)

(22) His yoke is easy  Chorus
His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
(Matthew 11:30)

PART TWO : The accomplishment of redemption by the sacrifice of Jesus, mankind's rejection of God's offer, and mankind's utter defeat when trying to oppose the power of the Almighty

(23) Behold the lamb of God Chorus
Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.
(John 1:29)

(24) He was despised  Air (Alto or Counter Tenor)
He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
(Isaiah 53:3)
He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting.
(Isaiah 50:6)

(25) Surely He hath borne our griefs Chorus
Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows! He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.
(Isaiah 53:4-5)

(26) And with His stripes we are healed Chorus
And with His stripes we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:5)

(27) All we like sheep have gone astray Chorus
All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
(Isaiah 53:6)

(28) All they that see him laugh him to scorn Recitative (Tenor or Soprano)
All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn; they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying:
(Psalms 22:7)

(29) He trusted in God Chorus
He trusted in God that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him.
(Psalms 22:8 Matthew 27:43)

(30) Thy rebuke hath broken His heart Recitative (Tenor or Soprano)
Thy rebuke hath broken His heart: He is full of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man, neither found He any to comfort Him.
(Psalms 69:20)

(31) Behold, and see if there be any sorrow Arioso (Tenor or Soprano)
Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow.
(Lamentations 1:12)

(32) He was cut off out of the land of the living Recitative (Tenor or Soprano)
He was cut off out the land of the living: for the transgressions of Thy people was He stricken.
(Isaiah 53:8)

(33) But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell Air (Tenor or Soprano)
But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell; nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.
(Psalms 16:10; Acts 2:27)

(34) Lift up your heads, O ye gates Chorus
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.
(Psalms 24:7-10)

(35) Unto which of the angels said He at any time Recitative (Tenor or Soprano)
Unto which of the angels said He at any time: Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee?
(Hebrews 1:5;  Psalm 2:7)

(36) Let all the angels of God worship Him Chorus
Let all the angels of God worship Him.
(Hebrews 1:6)

(37) Thou art gone up on high Air (Alto or Bass)
Thou art gone up on high; Thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men; yea, even from Thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them.
(Psalms 68:18;  Ephesians 4:8)

(38) The Lord gave the word Chorus
The Lord gave the word; great was the company of the preachers.
(Psalms 68:11)

(39) How beautiful are the feet Air (Soprano or Counter Tenor)
How beautiful are the feet of them: that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.
(Romans 10:15;  Isaiah 52:7)

(40) Their sound is gone out Chorus
Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world.
(Romans 10:18Psalms 19:4)

(41) Why do the nations so furiously rage together?  Air (Bass)
Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against His Anointed.
(Psalms 2:1-2;  Acts 4:25-26)

(42) Let us break their bonds asunder Chorus
Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.
(Psalms 2:3)

(43) He that dwelleth in heaven Recitative (Tenor)
He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision.
(Psalms 2:4)

(44) Thou shalt break them Air (Tenor)
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
(Psalms 2:9)

(45) Hallelujah Chorus
Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
(Revelation 19:6)
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.
(Revelation 11:15)
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.
(Revelation 19:16)

PART THREE : A Hymn of Thanksgiving for the final overthrow of Death

(46) I know that my redeemer liveth Air (Soprano)
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
(Job 19:25-26)
For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.
(I Corinthians 15:20)

(47) Since by man came death Chorus
Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
(I Corinthians 15:21-22)

(48) Behold I tell you a mystery Recitative (Bass)
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
(I Corinthians 15:51-52)

(49) The trumpet shall sound Air (Bass)
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.
(I Corinthians 15:52-53)

(50) Then shall be brought to pass Recitative (Alto or Counter Tenor)
Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.
(I Corinthians 15:54 Isaiah 25:8)

(51) O death where is thy sting?  Duet (Alto/Tenor/Counter Tenor)
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.
(I Corinthians 15:55-56;  Hosea 13:14)

(52) But thanks be to God Chorus
But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(I Corinthians 15:57)

(53) If God be for us Air (Soprano or Contralto)
If God be for us, who can be against us?
(Romans 8:31)
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.
(Romans 8:33-34)

(54) Worthy is the Lamb Chorus
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Revelation 5:12-13)



Influence of Handel's Messiah

One of the earliest musical influences on the composer of Bible in Song music was Handel's Messiah, particularly the fact that it is possible to write melodic tunes to actual Scripture.



Handel's Messiah

Handel's Messiah: First Performance
Handel's Messiah, first performed more than 260 years ago, is undoubtedly one of the great musical masterpieces of all time. Composed in only 24 days, it is the work of a genius which holds an extraordinary place both among the composer's works and in the history of music. No other work of its time has seen a continuous sequence of performances from 1742 to the present day.

Performances over last 260 years
In the course of these 260 years the Messiah has been performed in many different ways. The wish to adhere closely to the composer's own practice was followed by gestures of conscious departure, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the availability of piano scores spawned the practice of performing the work with large (usually amateur) choirs accompanied by a single instrument, an organ or even a piano, resulting in versions which not only distorted the Handelian score, but also ignored the composer's intentions. Recently, however, there has been a general awareness of the argument of authenticity in modern performances. Much research has been done and many articles and books have been published, particularly in 1985, the Handel anniversary year, all of which have led up to a greater understanding of the work. Nevertheless, despite the frequent use of original instruments, large scale performances are still very much the norm.

Messiah written for economy
It is therefore perhaps surprising to many to discover that Handel, when composing the work, was guided by an unusual wish for economy. Uncertain of what forces he would find in Dublin, he had written for a small string ensemble with trumpets and timpani. Nor was there a complete distinction between soloists and choristers. Some of the soloists were drawn from the Dublin Cathedral choirs used by Handel and the other soloists also sang in the chorus. The modern practice of performing the work with four soloists and a separate choir was not Handel's intention. In fact, he rarely used less than six soloists and they almost always sang in the choruses as well. Handel himself made several changes during the seventeen years of performances before he died.

The following notes will be of interest to those who are familiar with the work:

Instrumentation: There were no oboes or bassoons in the first performance, only a small string band with 2 trumpets and timpani. (There are, for example, no con or senza ripieno marks in the original score, these being added later for larger-scale performances in London.) Oboes were also added for later performances, but only served to double the voices. Although there are no separate parts for a double bass, there are clear indications in the score of its use by changes of clef in the part.

Singers: Handel had sixteen singers including both female and boy sopranos. The soloists formed part of the choir and Handel used both contralto and counter tenor soloists as well as more than one soprano, tenor and bass. For later performances in London he also revised two bass arias for a castrato soloist.

"But who may abide", known nowadays as an aria for alto, was originally written for bass and entirely in 3/8. The version for alto was probably re-written by Handel in 1750, some eight years after the first performance, and often was performed by a castrato.

Pifa suggests by its title shepherds music played traditionally at Christmas by the Italian pifferari (pipers, shepherds). The familiar middle section was added later by Handel but eventu'ally rejected.

"Rejoice greatly" The original shows Handel's notation in two different time signatures. The bass continuo part is in 4/4 whereas the violin and solo soprano part, both containing triplet patterns throughout, are marked 12/8. The final version, with the entire score in 4/4, probably did not appear until 1749. The aria in its original version was written for the only Italian opera soloist amongst Handel's singers.

"He shall feed his flock". The Recitative and entire aria were originally written for soprano.

"Thou art gone up on high" was originally written for bass. The commonly-heard versions for alto date from 1750 and were written for a castrato.

"How beautiful are the feet" The now famous aria for soprano was marked as "A Song omitted in the performance" and was probably reinstated in 1749 to precede immediately the chorus "Their sound is gone out", which was written in 1749 and therefore not part of the earlier performances (this chorus is the only one with separate oboe parts which gives added support to the fact that oboes were not used until about 1749). The original version was for alto duet leading straight into the chorus "Break forth into joy".

"If God be for us" The aria (these days normally sung by a soprano soloist accompanied by solo violin) was sung in the first performance by the famous contralto Mrs Gibber who sang it transposed down to C minor accompanied by tutti violins.


George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685. His elderly father, barber-surgeon to the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, entertained natural prejudices against the choice of music as a profession for his young son, the second child of his second wife, and Handel enjoyed an education that led him, after his father's death, to a brief period of study at the University of Halle in 1702. The following year he moved to Hamburg, joining the opera there, at first as a string-player, then as harpsichordist and composer. Success in Italian opera in Hamburg coupled with the doubtful musical prospects the city offered, persuaded Handel to try his fortune in Italy, where he spent the years between 1706 and 1710, confirming his generally Italianate style of composition in works for the theatre, the church and private entertainment.

Writing Italian Operas
In 1710, rejecting an offer from the ruler of Innsbruck, Handel accepted the position of Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, the future King George I of England, and immediately took leave of absence for the staging of his opera Rinaldo in London, where Italian opera was gradually gaining a place. Two years later he was back in London for good, concerned in particular with the composition, management and presentation of Italian opera. During the following thirty years he wrote nearly forty Italian operas for the London stage, to which he devoted a considerable part of his working life.

Writing English Oratorio
Early oratorio may be seen as a by-product of opera as it developed at the turn of the 16th century in Italy. England was late in its grudging acceptance of opera and had shown little interest in oratorio, as it had developed in other countries during the 17th century. Handel had written Italian oratorio in Rome. His first attempt at the new form of English oratorio came in 1732 with his setting of an adaptation of Racine's biblical drama Esther, described by one hostile critic as a "Religious Farce", and certainly a very profitable one to its composer. English oratorio combined the musical delights of Italian opera, with a text in English and a religious subject that might appeal to the Protestant conscience. Since oratorio was not staged, there was also a considerable saving in the cost of production.

Most popular of English Oratorios
Of all English oratorios Handel's Messiah has always been the most overwhelmingly popular. It is the least theatrical of all his oratorios and the most purely sacred in its choice of subject, the Messiah, a compendious version of the coming of Christ, His death and resurrection. The text, by Charles Jennens, drew extensively on the Authorized Version of the Bible, and an additional attraction has always been the large number of choruses included, a larger number than in any other of Handel's oratorios.

Early Performances of the Messiah
Messiah was written with Handel's usual speed in 1741 for performance in Dublin, some of it rehearsed briefly by inadequate singers in Chester, as he made his way to Holyhead to embark for the voyage. The first performance was given at the New Music Hall in Fish-amble Street, Dublin, on 13th April, 1742, in aid of charity. The first London performance took place in Lent 1743 at Covent Garden, but the work failed to please, in part because of reservations that some held about the suitability of such a sacred subject for a theatre. Messiah only achieved its lasting success after performances in 1750 in aid of the Foundling Hospital, established ten years earlier by Captain Thomas Coram. At his death in 1759 Handel left a fair copy of the score and all parts to the Hospital, an institution that continued to benefit from annual performances of the work.


Wedding Hymns
All Creatures of Our God and King
All People that on Earth do Dwell
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Amazing Grace
Love Divine
Morning has broken
O Perfect Love
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
The King of Love My Shepherd is
The Lord's My Shepherd
Psalm 234,5


Wedding Religious Readings
Colossians 3:12-14
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Ephesians 5:21-33
Genesis 1:26-31
Genesis 2:18-24
Mark 10:6-9
Psalm 128:1-44,5



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