Father Christmas might have waved goodbye to us, but that’s not the end of the Christmas Season yet. According to the liturgical calendar, we are still in the month of Nativity with the Nativity scenes and the accompanying decorations around the altars still ubiquitously present in the churches across the seven seas and seven continents, resounding with Christmas hymns at masses until the second week of January. Choirs still stage their grandest and liveliest concerts, just as their counterparts in Victorian Britain did, with the customary repertoires, ranging from the popular “Silent Night”, to “Joy to the World”. Above all these oldies but goodies, Handel’s “Messiah” chorus chimes the bell of Nativity most exultantly and reverberates with the sublime impression on the harmony of human voices that perks up the senses and uplifts the spirit of man.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), a German-born British Baroque composer who is also called “Mother of Music” wrote “Messiah” in 1749 as an anthem for a Charity concert in the chapel of the Founding Hospital, a foundation truly close to his heart created for the guardianship and scholarship of the abandoned children and contributed the munificent largess from the subsequent performances to the hospital. Messiah’s majestic Hallelujah chorus was so impressive that King George I, the queen, and the congregation rose during the performance. Further to the royal impression, Mozart and Beethoven were said to compose similar pieces in reflection of Messiah because of its magnificent musical scale and instrumental composition superbly blended with human voices that gave a spriteful jolt to the senses and soul of the listener.
In addition to the musical excellence of “Messiah”, its significance lies in its democratization of music being accessible and doable to all pace its conception as being the prerogative to aristocrats and the proprietary to professional musicians. Out of stuffy music halls reserved for the high, Handel’s Messiah was performed in churches where the public could also enjoy it. Also, thanks to the popularization of the Hallelujah chorus, fueled by the Industrial Revolution, many an amateur choral society came into being, inviting any one to actively participate in musical activities.
Handel himself conducted or attended every performance of “Messiah” up until his death. Handel was said to riposte thus when “Messiah” was called noble entertainment: “I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wish to make them better.” Now, that’s the true spirit of an artist who touches upon the hearts and minds of all human creatures. No wonder has the chorus given lumps in the throats of the gobsmaked audience of the world. Hallelujah.