This will conclude my sharing in 2017 of some of the selections of the spiritual Christian Poetry in poems, psalms, hymns, and songs that were in my collections over the years among Christians in the churches. I will also soon share a selection of Creeds that I encountered over the decades.
Two weeks ago my son invited us to hear him sing in a Handel’s Messiah performance at Point Loma Nazarene University. Although I’ve frequently heard of the Messiah oratorio, and had listened to small segments of it, yet to date had not heard or experience the full, or nearly complete performance of this Christian musical masterpiece of the Gospel or Redemption Story of the Christ. My very first momentous acquaintance with Handel’s Messiah was by a certain man I met on the streets of Whittier and Santa Fe Springs in Los Angeles county in 1973. He appeared to be a derelict and partly insane, but had wits enough to communicate his obsession and history, though somewhat incoherently. I met him several times, attempting to preach the gospel to him, and then walking around with him as a friend. I was a young man and he was then in his sixties. People would shy away from us as we walked and talked; the shopkeepers were impatient and unfriendly with him. After several times meeting him in this manner, he allowed me to walk him to where he lived, and to my surprise he owned a house, though ill-kept, and didn’t need money to subsist; yet wore old dirty tattered clothes, and ate the simplest food. We talked for hours, and he began to tell me that he was an accomplished pianist, organist, and played other instruments; he said he was often invited to perform Handel’s Messiah in many places, in grand performances; that he played for several churches for some thirty years. I could never get him to coherently relate what exactly happened to him to bring him to this place; he showed some resentment towards Christians, but not excessive, he was reluctant to seek or want help. I moved on and never knew what became of him. Whenever I heard of Handel’s Messiah I would think of the old man so long ago.
So here I was with my wife and other family members and friends to hear and see Messiah for the first time. We got there early, seated in the very front some 8 feet from the Conductor and the musicians. We were given the Program sheets which showed the musical instruments of Violins, Viola, Cello, Bass, Trumpets, Harpsichord, and Timpani (Kettledrums), and Piano-Organ Keyboard; in all some 3 dozen instruments. The Choral Singers numbered over 130, divided up into Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, and Bass, of both women and men, young and old, and of varied ethnicity. Messiah is ordered in several Parts: the Prologue of Bible Texts on the Incarnation; the First Part of the Prophecy
from the Old Testament verses from Isaiah 40, Haggai 2, Malachi 3, Isaiah 7 with Matthew 1, Isaiah 60, and Isaiah 9; then the First Coming in Luke 2, and Zechariah 9, and Matthew 11; next is the Second Part of Redemption in John 1, Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 2, and Revelation 19, here with the great HalleluJahs, which incites all to rise and stand in awe; finally, Part Three of the Second Coming in Job 19, I Corinthians 15, and Revelation 5. Prayers before and after, with many Amens. The Performance was indeed wonderful and worshipful to God and His Christ.
The Program Guide also included a brief biography of George Frideric Handel and info of Messiah: “Handel -a German-born, Italian-educated composer and impresario in the middle of a long career in England- composed what has become the best loved and most performed work in the canon of Western music: the oratorio MESSIAH. Its timeless themes of hope and redemption have inspired millions around the world for three centuries, and the continued popularity of its message and music will insure its performance well into the future…..Handel’s MESSIAH has been called “the first instance in the history of music of an attempt to view the mighty drama of human redemption from an artistic viewpoint.”
With this in mind and with reflections I must add some other insights and facts:
(From Songs and Airs by George Frederic Handel by Ebenezer Prout, 1905, Vol. 2 ‘For the Low Voice’:
“…Handel or Hendel, -with the single exception of S. Bach, was the greatest composer of the first half of the eighteenth century, was born at Halle, in Saxony, on February 23, 1685. His father was barber-surgeon in the town and surgeon-in-ordìnary to the Prince of Saxony, and Elector of Brandenburg; he was already sixty-three years of age when the composer was born, Handel’s mother being the second wife of his father. At a very early age the child’s remarkable musical gifts showed them selves; but his father, who destined him for the legal profession, discouraged and even prohibited the study of the art his son loved; and his opposition was only overcome by the mediation of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, who had had an opportunity of hearing the boy play the Organ. Handel’s first teacher was Friedrìch Wilhelm Zachau, organist of the Liebfrauenkìrche in Halle, who, however, after giving him instruction both theoretical and practical for a few years, informed his father, when the lad had reached the age of eleven, that his pupil knew more than himself. The Elector, who greatly admired Handel’s talent, offered to send him to Italy for further training, but his aged father declined to part with him. In 1697 his father died, and for the next few years Handel remained at Halle, engaged in professional work. In 1703 (at 18) he went to Hamburg, where the opera was at that time under the direction of the prolific composer Reinhard Keiser. Here he accepted a position in the orchestra at the subordinate part of ‘violino di ripieno’, which he held until his talent as a harpsìchord player was discovered by his volunteering to take the place of the regular accompanist when the latter was on one occasion absent. It was in Hamburg that Handel’s first operas, written to German words, were produced. These were four in number, -‘Almira, Nero, Daphne, and Florindo’….
The success he met with in Hamburg enabled Handel to save enough money to allow him to carry out a long-cherished wish to visit Italy, a visit which exercised a marked influence on his future musical development. He first went to Florence, and thence proceeded to Rome, where he wrote many pieces of church music with Latin words, and a number of solo Cantatas with Italian words. He then returned to Florence, where the first of his thirty-nine Italian operas, ‘Rodrigo’, was produced with great success. In the following year (1708, at 23) ‘Agrippina’ was produced at Venice, with no less brilliant result than its predecessor. From Venice Handel returned to Rome, where he made the acquaintance of the great violinist Corelli. In Rome he composed his two Italian
oratorìos, ‘La Resurrezione’ and ‘Il Trionfo del Tempo’.
Leaving Italy in 1710 (at 25), Handel went to Hanover, where the Elector appointed him Kapellmeìster, in succession to the Abbé Stelfanì, who resigned the post in his favor. Handel obtained a year’s leave of absence in order to visit England, and arrived in London toward the close of the year. His fame had preceded him, and he was soon commissioned to write an opera for the Queen’s Theatre, in the Haymarket. The subject selected, ‘Rinaldo’, was taken from Tasso’s ‘Jerusalem Delivered’, and on the authority of the librettist the music is said to have been written in a fortnight (fourteen nights). The work, produced on February 24, 1711 (at 26), which had an immense success, is one of the finest of its composer’s operas; two airs from it are included in the present collection. At the close of the London opera season Handel returned to Hanover, but obtained permission to pay a second visit to England on condition that he return within a reasonable time. Revisiting London in 1712 (at 27), he brought out two new operas, ‘Il Pastor Fido’ and ‘Teseo’, and in the following year wrote, among other works, his ‘Te Deum’ and ‘Jubilate for the Peace of Utrecht’. But he outstayed his leave so long as to offend the Elector of Hanover; and when the latter, on the death of Queen Anne in 1714, became king of England, under the title of George I, the composer found himself neglected by royalty. By the mediation of Baron Kilmansegg a reconciliation was effected, Handel was restored to favor and received a pension of £200 a year. In 1716 (at 31) Handel accompanied the king on a visit to Hanover, and not very long after his return in the following year, he accepted an invitation from the Duke of Chandos to become director of the music at Cannons. This post he held from 1718 to 1720, during which time he composed the series of anthems known as the ‘Chandos Anthems’, as well as the serenata ‘Acis and Galatea’ and his first English oratorio, ‘Esther’. There can be little doubt that it was his residence at Cannons that first induced him to give so much attention to sacred music, and indirectly led the way to the subsequent production of the series of immortal oratorios on which his fame now chiefly rests.
In 1720 (at 35) a company was formed, under the title of The Royal Academy of Music, for the performance of Italian opera at the King’s Theatre; Handel was appointed chief musical director, and associated with him as composers were Attilio Ariosti and G. B. Buononcini. From this time for several years Handel was chiefly engaged in the composition of opera; in the nine years of the existence of the company he wrote fourteen of these works. Financially, however, the result was disastrous, for in 1728 (at 43), after a loss of more than £50,000, the theatre was closed. Heidegger, who had been the manager under the company, bought it and secured the services of Handel as sole musical director. The composer, whose fecundity was apparently inexhaustible, continued to bring out fresh operas year after year; but a rival opera….Neither was fortune more favorable when Handel took the Covent Garden Theatre and carried it on on his own account. Moreover, his health broke down under the pressure of overwork; he was seized in 1737 (at 52) with a paralytic stroke, which necessitated complete rest, and went to the sulphur waters of Aix-la-Chapelle, which produced a partial cure. Subsequently his health was completely restored, but for some time the effects of the attack were noticeable.
It is probably a fortunate circumstance that Handel’s operas, with all their beauties, were not more successful; for it was the failure of the numerous operatic enterprises with which he was connected that finally led him to turn his attention to oratorio. Already, as early as 1732, his ‘Esther’ had been performed in London, at first “with dresses, action, and scenery,” and later without these accessories. In 1733 Handel had broken new ground with his oratorios ‘Deborah’ and ‘Athalia’, the first works in which he shows himself in his full strength as a choral writer. In 1738 (at 53) he produced ‘Saul’ and ‘Israel in Egypt’; but it was not until he had finally abandoned operatic work -his last opera, ‘Deidamia’, was composed in 1740 (at 55)- that he devoted his chief, one might almost say his exclusive, attention to sacred music.
The ‘Messiah’, Handel’s masterpiece, was composed in twenty-four days, from August 22 to September 14, 1741 (at 56), and its first performance took place in Dublin on April 13, 1742 (at 57); it was not heard in London until the following year (his 58th year). Immediately after completing this work, Handel wrote another of his greatest oratorios, Samson, which he completed on October 29, 1741;…..
During the last years of his life (about 10 years) Handel was totally blind. This, however, did not prevent his continuing to give oratorio performances, which were conducted by his pupil, Christopher Smith, while the composer, according to his custom, played organ concertos or voluntaries between the parts of the oratorios. He also still composed, dictating the music to Smith;…..
In spite of increasing infirmity, Handel continued to direct his oratorios, giving a performance of the Messiah for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital only a week before his death, which took place on Good Friday, April 13, 1759 (at 74). He was buried in Westminster Abbey on the twentieth of the same month, and the well-known monument by Roubilliac marks the place of his interment.
Handel was a man of fine personal character and of strongly marked individuality. Though irascible and choleric, he was warm-hearted and generous in his disposition. This is proved not only by the readiness with which he gave performances for charitable purposes, but by his bequeathing £1,000 to the Society for the Support of Decayed Musicians, now known as the Royal Society of Musicians. Of unimpeachable honor in pecuniary matters, he ruined his health in his efforts to pay the debts he had contracted during his unfortunate operatic speculations; it is satisfactory to know that in the later years of his life he retrieved his fortunes by means of his oratorios, and that at the time of his death his savings amounted to £20,000. The straightforward honesty of his character is reflected in his music, perhaps more particularly in his choruses, which are for the most part distinguished by breadth and grandeur, while never shallow, Handel is never abstruse; his technical mastery of his art was complete, but he never used his knowledge as a mere means of showing his cleverness.
Of all the great composers it is probable that not one has written so many songs as Handel; it is certain that none has composed so many which have become, at all events among English speaking people, universal favorites. The reasons for this preference are not far to seek. In the first place, Handel had an apparently inexhaustible fund of melodic invention, flowing in general in the simplest and most natural way possible. In his music an unvocal interval is of extremely rare occurrence; except for dramatic effect, we seldom meet even with a chromatic progression……… His melodies also have in many cases a peculiar beauty which appeals directly to the general public no less than to the educated musician. Unlike the music of his great contemporary, Bach, which must be heard many times before its charm can be fully appreciated, that of Handel goes to the heart at once. Herein lies one great secret of its success. Another special feature to be remarked in Handel’s music is its strongly dramatic character. Though chiefly known at the present day as a writer of oratorios, it must not be forgotten that he was the greatest opera composer of his time. While it is impossible that any of his operas should ever be revived, owing to the changes in public taste and the progress of the musical drama, the study of their scores is not less interesting to the musician than that of the oratorios.”)
(From the Internet: Wikipedia and others:
“Messiah has been performed with few musicians and singers, often with hundreds of musicians and singers, and at times thousands of musicians and singers. Messiah is performed every year thousands of times globally. Though Messiah was slightly received and lightly praised at first, it soon became most popular and widespread, moving from nobility to common folks. “scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible, and from the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. “For the benefit of his audiences Jennens printed and issued a pamphlet explaining the reasons for his choices of scriptural selections.” It was first performed in Dublin on 13 April 1742 and received its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music. “The warm reception accorded to Messiah in Dublin was not repeated in London when Handel introduced the work at the Covent Garden theatre on 23 March 1743…The first performance was overshadowed by views expressed in the press that the work’s subject matter was too exalted to be performed in a theatre, particularly by secular singer-actresses such as Cibber and Clive. In an attempt to deflect such sensibilities, in London Handel had avoided the name Messiah and presented the work as the “New Sacred Oratorio”. As was his custom, Handel rearranged the music to suit his singers.” “Jennens’s text is an extended reflection on Jesus as the Messiah called Christ. The text begins in Part I with prophecies by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds, the only “scene” taken from the Gospels. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. In Part III he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven.”)
(“Structure of Handel’s Messiah:
The numbering of the movements shown here is in accordance with the Novello vocal score (1959), edited by Watkins Shaw, which adapts the numbering earlier devised by Ebenezer Prout. Other editions count the movements slightly differently; the Bärenreiter edition of 1965, for example, does not number all the recitatives and runs from 1 to 47. The division into parts and scenes is based on the 1743 word-book prepared for the first London performance. The scene headings are given as Burrows summarised the scene headings by Jennens.
Scene 1: Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation
1. Sinfony (instrumental)
2. Comfort ye my people (tenor)
3. Ev’ry valley shall be exalted (air for tenor)
4. And the glory of the Lord (anthem chorus)
Scene 2: The coming judgment
5. Thus saith the Lord of hosts (accompanied recitative for bass)
6. But who may abide the day of His coming (soprano, alto or bass)
7. And he shall purify the sons of Levi (chorus)
Scene 3: The prophecy of Christ’s birth
8. Behold, a virgin shall conceive (alto)
9. O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (air for alto and chorus)
10. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth (bass)
11. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light (bass)
12. For unto us a child is born (duet chorus)
Scene 4: The annunciation to the shepherds
13. Pifa (“pastoral symphony”: instrumental)
14a. There were shepherds abiding in the fields (secco recitative for soprano)
14b. And lo, the angel of the Lord (accompanied recitative for soprano)
15. And the angel said unto them (secco recitative for soprano)
16. And suddenly there was with the angel (accompanied recitative for soprano)
17. Glory to God in the highest (chorus)
Scene 5: Christ’s healing and redemption
18. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion (soprano)
19. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened (secco recitative for soprano or alto)
20. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd (alto and/or soprano)
21. His yoke is easy (duet chorus)
Scene 1: Christ’s Passion
22. Behold the Lamb of God (chorus)
23. He was despised and rejected of men (alto)
24. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (chorus)
25. And with his stripes we are healed (fugue chorus)
26. All we like sheep have gone astray (duet chorus)
27. All they that see him laugh him to scorn (secco recitative for tenor)
28. He trusted in God that he would deliver him (fugue chorus)
29. Thy rebuke hath broken his heart (tenor or soprano)
30. Behold and see if there be any sorrow (tenor or soprano)
Scene 2: Christ’s Death and Resurrection
31. He was cut off (tenor or soprano)
32. But thou didst not leave his soul in hell (tenor or soprano)
Scene 3: Christ’s Ascension
33. Lift up your heads, O ye gates (chorus)
Scene 4: Christ’s reception in Heaven
34. Unto which of the angels (tenor)
35. Let all the angels of God worship Him (chorus)
Scene 5: The beginnings of Gospel preaching
36. Thou art gone up on high (soprano, alto, or bass)
37. The Lord gave the word (chorus)
38. How beautiful are the feet (soprano, alto, or chorus)
39. Their sound is gone out (tenor or chorus)
Scene 6: The world’s rejection of the Gospel
40. Why do the nations so furiously rage together (bass)
41. Let us break their bonds asunder (chorus)
42. He that dwelleth in heaven (tenor)
Scene 7: God’s ultimate victory
43. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron (tenor)
44. Hallelujah (anthem and fugue chorus)
Scene 1: The promise of eternal life
45. I know that my Redeemer liveth (soprano)
46. Since by man came death (chorus)
Scene 2: The Day of Judgment
47. Behold, I tell you a mystery (bass)
48. The trumpet shall sound (bass)
Scene 3: The final conquest of sin
49. Then shall be brought to pass (alto)
50. O death, where is thy sting (alto and tenor)
51. But thanks be to God (chorus)
52. If God be for us, who can be against us (soprano)
Scene 4: The acclamation of the Messiah
53. Worthy is the Lamb (chorus)
(From George Frideric Handel His Personality & His Times by Flower, Newman, Sir, 1923:
“In the course of some years of Handelian study, induced by a sincere admiration of the man’s genius, I have discovered certain facts which are not included in the Handel biographies. I felt they would not be without interest to other ardent lovers of the Master, and in this belief I attempted this book. The accepted story of the Water Music, for instance, which began with Mainwaring, and has gone on ever since, is quite incorrect, as recent investigation in Germany proves. Again, Charles
Jennens has always been credited by every biographer with compiling the libretto of Messiah. That a poor parson employed by Jennens did the work has not hitherto been recorded in the Handel books…..Handel’s music is really a reflex of an extraordinary character, acting and reacting upon a beauteous and rich imagination. His actions, even in times of great adversity—actions often abrupt and motiveless superficially—reveal, on investigation, the thinking man behind them. They represent the thoughts of one who could survey Humanity and translate into music the impressions formed. It is questionable whether any music, composed in this country or imported into it, has reached the heart of the people so truly as his. He caught the moods of the world and set them to song. To admire the music of Handel above all other is often considered to be the taste of a heretic. There are some, too, who have striven, not very nobly, to show that Handel stole all his better music. Lacking such knowledge, it would be difficult for me not to appear self-conscious in the company of these comedians, so I am grateful to be numbered among the heretics…..”
Chapter 1: Some Relations:
“Genius is seldom admitted as such save when it can achieve over Circumstance. And the Circumstance that governs the ways of Mankind is so contrived as to hinder rather than help the weakling idea. Existence, as humanly conceived, would mock at and poke into seclusion those tendrils of thought which, if developed, would produce a voice to which the world might listen. This same Circumstance did its utmost to snuff out the genius of George Frideric Handel. It pegged him about from his early years with absurd obstacles. It fought him with all the strength of precedent in its favour. Nor did it yield him even the favour of happy chance. It tried to stifle a voice that ultimately turned a world to melody. For the child who was born at the little Saxon town of Halle on 23rd February 1685 was never followed by what is known as good luck. In a gamble with chance he was safe to lose every time. But he made his way to his ultimate destiny by the triumph of sheer courage and personality. To begin with, nothing was expected of George Frideric Handel when he was born except a commonplace yet circumspect life. His father had reared many children (5 sisters, 3 brothers), and George Frideric (named after his father), following after by the grace of a second wife, was just one of a herd, as ordinary as his name. No great ability was anticipated of him ; the suspicion of any musical genius in him would probably have shocked his father, the barbersurgeon, into disowning him. All that his parents demanded was that he should become a good citizen and pay his way in some respectable craft ; be God-fearing, if not God-chosen ; ultimately marry and rear children, and, in the fullness of time, pass to an honoured corner in the Halle churchyard, and be remembered with respect. The Handels had always done things that way. They had never been original, but ever respectable. From the time that they first settled in Breslau in mediaeval ages, till and after grandfather Handel —Valentine by name— came and established the Handel respectability at Halle, they had been the same. He opened a small coppersmith’s shop to which he very vigilantly attended. He was unimaginative, and unsuspecting, this man, that any grandchild of his would one day demand the silence of kings. In 1685, when the birth of the future musician occurred in the Am Schlamm at Halle, Middle Europe was in a curious mood of unoriginality. It had its own scheme of things; its slow progress was a change as slowly conceived. It was rather hidebound with Lutheranism, relieved with patches—very eruptive patches—of Judaism, and occasional upheavals of Catholicism and free thought. Its business was as respectable as its religion. It did not wish to do anything in a new way. It made things and sold them. This Middle Europe of 1685 wanted to go on making things and selling them in the same fashion for ever……
The Handels were a rather peculiar family. They succeeded in Middle Europe at this age because they were so clearly typical of their age. They were extremely efficient, quiet people. They had no family scandals, no skeletons in the family cupboard. They made no noise ; they rose to no honours. They did not attempt to govern. They married just the kind of people they were themselves, for they adventured neither in business nor in marriage. They made their profits in their occupations, and paid their debts, and were buried, as they would have wished to be buried, with the little pompous funerals of seventeenth-century Germany. They lived very gamely and straightly round the narrow arc which their mentality perceived, and came to the same very revered end. Just dust to the earth that had yielded it. Dust and no memories. Suddenly this very circumspect family developed an eruptive mood. Early in the seventeenth century Valentine Handel packed himself up, bag and baggage, at Breslau and went south to Halle. He followed the usual custom of the time for an apprentice who had become ‘Gesell’ to take to the road. The Saxon town had no special call for him. Buthe responded to a mood. Like some irresponsible bird of passage, he did what no Handel had ever done hitherto—he went out to discover. To fight…. Scarcely a year before his arrival at Halle, he married an Eisleben girl, Anne, the daughter of the master coppersmith, Samuel Beichling, who was to be the grandmother of the musician…. He was then twenty-six years of age. He arrived at Halle with his few sticks of belongings, and the knowledge of his craft as a coppersmith—the only stable things to which he had pegged his adventure….. There were other coppersmiths there before him, but the records show that he was a brilliant craftsman in the more delicate forms of the work. He became known ; he prospered. Rapidly he climbed the ladder till the citizens of Halle held such respect for him that they put him into the council with the position of bread-weigher. In a short time his shop was one of the foremost of the period…. Valentine Handel made money, and he saved money. As proof of it, let it be said that he bought two of the principal houses in the adjoining main street. No tradesman in those days could afford to buy houses unless he were making money heavily. The Handel stock was particularly strong in this man. He had no ideas outside his business. He did not know one note of music from another. He was conscious of no appeal from any Art. He lived a rather closeted, furtive life, taking no chances unless he had previously measured every step of the way. But he was alert, and very conscious that in his epoch commercial Germany was about to be sold to the Jews. So he prospered; he prospered because he had been manufactured so closely to the pattern of his age. And he lived in a manner that became his lineage, a clean-trading, rather ignorant person, with ideals and beliefs in the hereafter for those who kept themselves unsullied from the Jewish vices that were breaking out in gross and disturbing fashion in the larger cities. A person rather dour and sanctimonious. He died in the same unostentatious fashion in which he had lived, just as the Handel precedents ordained ; his financial affairs very simple and arranged, and with a clear conscience that those for whom he had worked should never be troubled with any irritating annoyances about their heritage. He had thought it all out beforehand, and so planned his death that it should be as simple and understood as his life had been. He had always been a very safe person, rather difficult to live with at times, one may gather, but worthy of the elegant inscription they put upon his tomb. And when he died at the coppersmith’s shop that had borne his name for so long and honourably over its portal, he left his two elder sons, Valentine and Christoph—already trained to his own pattern as coppersmiths—to succeed him. Two other sons he had lost, but the fifth, George by name, never appears to have interested him. George had no inclinations towards the crafts of the smith. He was ambitious, dreamy ; he lived a solitary life, out of joint with the family and its affairs. Yet Destiny was to choose him for the father of one of the world’s greatest musicians. This youth had just turned fourteen years when he followed his father’s bier to its last resting-place,….for six years later he was the most respected burgher in Halle as a barber-surgeon. At the end of his life he was in his turn to pass on that strength of character to his last son George Frideric. The gift was the only thing that George did for that son of his late years. Nevertheless it was this gift that brought the son in the fullness of time to Westminster Abbey. When they had buried the old coppersmith of Halle in 1636, George, the boy of fourteen, was left more than ever to the seclusion of his own ways, his own thoughts. Whatever destiny there might be for him had given no sign. He had no one to turn toward for guidance, and, says one historian, he walked the streets and the wooded paths beside the banks of Halle’s wonderful river, the Saale, “trapped by a great sense of ambition.” Then the destiny of George Handel began to shape itself. He became an apprentice to Christoph Oettinger, a barbersurgeon, one of the successful young men of Halle. He went into the Oettinger household, and began to pick up the rudiments of surgery. Oettinger was thrifty and prospering ; he had no dream in the world beyond money, and he hammered this boy into being what he meant him to be—just a pawn in his game of building up success for himself and a handsome substance to leave behind him. Not that there was a great deal to learn in surgery in those days—the average medical student of modern times could master in a week the whole gamut of surgery as it was then known, and be glad enough to forget it afterwards. But the life was hard ; the trivial round remorseless and unending….
Eventually and with startling suddenness, Christoph Oettinger died, and his young wife, Anna, was left with her thirty-one years and no children, but a considerable business on her hands. In the ordinary way she should have disposed of it, and, with the aid of the comfortable fortune which Christoph had left, set about to find some eligible mate for her middle age. If Christoph had been thrifty, Anna was more so. She had helped him to build up this business, and she was giving away nothing. She resolved to go on…. And so she ran her business, relying on young Handel. More and more relying upon him. This quiet youth who said so little, yet always seemed to know. Odd thoughts must have passed through the minds of these two; Anna just thirty-one, and George Handel not yet twenty-one…. George Handel married his widow. It was the one certain thing that had to happen. And it proved to be a marriage exceptional in the fact that it was successful where the average marriage based on a business foundation is not successful. George Handel was at once a burgher of the town. Also Frau Handel held an equal importance with her husband in the conduct of a business which, under the full force of their youth and his cleverness, rose to be the principal establishment of its kind in the place. They made money rapidly. Valentine and Christoph in the coppersmith business discovered at last that the despised little brother had become a power in the town. They knew of him in Weissenfels ; Leipzig had spoken of him. Then doubtless they realized that there might be some pride in the relationship…. Anna bore her husband six children, but only two of them—a boy and a girl—ever grew to maturity. Though George Handel, the barber-surgeon, with the passage of years, studied even more deeply that duty to his home, the sense of which he had gained from his forebears, he became with those years more morose, often bitter, intensely severe, silent, unpopular in the main…. The disappointment of their children had hit them hard ; instead of bringing the twain closer it hung as a heavy weight and forbade closer union and understanding.
As Handel grew older he became more a person to himself. He worked indefatigably. Night and day the tall, sinister figure, with the face that never smiled, was seen walking the streets, knowing no one, dreaming, just as perchance the boy had dreamed at the coppersmith’s funeral. For at times the wings of death swept over Halle and would wipe out the inhabitants of half a street, just as a gust of autumn gale can clear the leaves from one side of a tree. Halle was ill-drained, its streets too narrow, and the wisp of disease would percolate from this point to that like some vile searching thing that was brought to a halt, not by the people’s prayers in the Moritzburg, but by some peculiar dispensation of God at His own particular time. For long after her marriage Frau Handel was kept continually busy with her cradles ; they were perhaps mainly responsible for that gradual falling away of interest in what had now become her husband’s business. But when they had been married nine years Handel had been accepted so definitely as the finest barber-surgeon of the district that he was appointed (in 1652) the surgeon of Giebichenstein, a suburb of the town….shortly afterwards he was appointed Surgeonin-Ordinary and Valet-de-Chambre to Prince Augustus of Saxony, a dissolute gentleman, a past-master in the art of Love, whose mistresses were scattered high and low over the immediate district and beyond it…….Eleven years after the barber-surgeon had bought his palatial house in the Schlamm, disaster overtook the district. On 2nd May 1676, a house in the quarter suddenly burst into flames. House after house was involved as a strong wind, rushing up the narrow lanes, hurled the sparks and flaming dibris in all directions. The parsimonious builders of those days had bunched the houses together in huge clusters, separated only by the narrowest all…and women and children were killed and injured, or disappeared in the flames. How far the Handel mansion—and it undoubtedly was a mansion for the period—suffered in the conflagration there is no record, but the barber-surgeon saved himself and his family. Thereafter, the disaster was closely followed by others, which brought increasing anxiety into the lives of the Handels. Four years later Prince Augustus of Saxony died, described as the former house of Handel, afterwards of Florke, who was the husband of George Frideric Handel’s niece…. and the town of Halle passed from Saxony to Brandenburg. All the honours which George Handel had striven for and attained in royal circles thus fell away at a stroke, and the removal of royal patronage, even by death, was a catastrophe of the utmost magnitude in those days….Handel was disgruntled, his pride was smashed. Then the Halle Council, consisting as it did of many of his enemies, brought a charge against him of intriguing against the late Prince by supplying information about his condition to the Elector of Brandenburg, who had become the successor. They tried to harass Handel in Halle ; perhaps they hoped to drive out so gloomy a person from their midst. But with the tough courage, which he eventually passed on to his son, the barber-surgeon refused to budge an inch. A little later his health began to fail…. He took a bold step ; he wrote to the famous Privy-Councillor von Dancklemann, “I wish,” he said, “to thank you herewith most humbly and obediently to pray, to be so gracious, as I am an old most humble servant, and according to the will of God have only to live one or two years, that on the occasion of the present visit of His Electoral Highness (to Halle) I may receive the document,” i.e. the renewal of the appointment to the various offices he held…. the Elector gave back to the barber-surgeon all the honours he had lost. Once again George Handel became surgeon to the Court, at first without salary. Hardly had he been reappointed than he was suddenly taken ill. He grew worse. Would that life remaining to him, which he had said had but one year, two years to run, pass out so soon? They prayed for him in the churches; the Superintendent Olearius, his confessor and a distant relative, came and administered the last Sacrament. It was obvious that the old barber-surgeon was dying. Then came an amazing change. He rallied. This man, whom they believed to be gasping out his last breath, was suddenly found walking about in his room…. in the Liebfrauenkirche (he dropped) painfully to his knees, till only the shower of silver hair was visible above the pew. For long he knelt thus, thanking his Maker for his new lease of life. Honour was restored, a new sense of ease and achievement crept into the Handel establishment,… Scarcely a year after the new distinction had been given, Anna Handel died suddenly. If the barber-surgeon was stupefied by the blow he did not show it. His life went on imperturbably as before. He buried her without a coffin, without any ceremonial whatever, just as if he were hiding in the ground some finished thing that had once been a piece of his home. In his later years he had not shown the adoration for Anna which he had when she was Oettinger’s widow. Now that she had gone he picked up the threads of his life, no more solitary for her loss. But a cornerstone had been knocked out of the domestic edifice which had grown about him and become so accommodating to his work, altering its shape, adapting itself to every call which the busy life demanded…..He was still floundering in the rut of misfortune when further disaster overtook him. Plague broke out in Halle, the last epidemic of plague Halle was to know. During the disaster nineteen of the principal citizens of the town formed a union for purposes of mutual help during the plague…. But in spite of these precautions, these prayers, the plague swept away Gottfried, one of the barber-surgeon’s two surviving children. The surgeon, with the years gathering as a mighty weight upon him, was left practically alone in the great house in the Schlamm, a strong, unbroken but piteous figure. Even this blow did not bring him to his knees…. Six months elapsed…. He was now sixty years of age. The tall figure had bent, the face thinned, the mouth become more stubborn, more firm. As he aged, his long hair whitened in curls about his shoulders. He dressed always in black, with a black skull-cap, a coat of black satin and a collar of white lace. Early in 1683—only a very few months after the unromantic Anna had passed to her account—George Handel announced to the few cronies who frequented his house in the Schlamm, and had his confidence, that he was engaged to be married to Dorothea Taust, a woman of thirty-two, (daughter of a Lutheran Pastor), quiet, subdued. At his age, and with his experience, George would never have tolerated any woman who was not subdued. His new era of love-making was as violent as the first had been subtle. He attempted in his strong, selfish fashion to thrust an urgent marriage upon her. But the plague, which now had been stamped out of Halle, was still lingering in the suburbs, and some of the Taust family were stricken with it. In vain did George Handel press the matter of an immediate marriage. Subservient as she was, Dorothea had a greater instinct in her—that of humanity. She refused to leave her till they were convalescent. Plead as he would he could make no impression. Not until April burst in loveliness over the Saale plain did George Handel make his second marriage…. So did Dorothea Taust come to the mansion in the Schlamm, a nervous woman, very fearful of the rather celebrated personage whom she had married, the old man with ling erings of youth in him still, his certain faithfulness, his extraordinary set sense of duty in everything…. A year after their marriage Dorothea (she 33, he 61) brought into the world a son, a weak child, who died at birth. The Fates still juggled with old Handel. If it were not for the excuse that he ultimately reared one of the greatest children in the world’s history, it might be said that he was never meant to bring children to maturity because he did not understand them. When his wife ultimately bore a child of genius he thought the child a fool….”
From Chapter 2: Halle Days:
“….George Frideric, whom they were baptizing this day in the Liebfrauenkirche. “Unto us a child is born.” Those words must have been very present in the mind of this man as he waited beside the font while his father-in-law, old Georg Taust, christened this child George Frideric, thereby performing an office which was to be one of the last of his official life, for within a few weeks of his leaving the church, filled as he doubtless was with the great pride of owning a first grandchild, death claimed him. ” Unto us a child is born.” And this very child upon whose forehead they set the cross of water now was to put those words to the most wonderful music in little over half a century’s time……The barber-surgeon, who had lost Gottfried and found salvation in George Frideric, had higher ambitions for this son. But George Frideric was to disappoint him, he was to frivol with musical instruments ere his parent passed to the Handel tomb. Though his mother Dorothea from the Giebichenstein parsonage was to live to see this child go out George Frideric Handel and find fame in the doubtful ways of music, she never understood what it meant. This son was to grow up and depart from her, and would, in the fullness of time, send short messages of affection to her from his sanctuary in England. But, no knowledge of music, she never realised his worth. He ultimately became to her a being she had created and sent forth into some strange vortex of public life. She always cared for him, though he departed from her for ever when just emerging from his teens, and when she died Death dealt the greatest blow to this son that his life ever knew. From the time that the christening party left the Liebfrauenkirche, life for the Handel child was to drop into the common rut of the better-bred Halle children. Ere the year had ended Pastor Taust of Giebichenstein, left weak and ill as he had been by the plague, passed quietly away, and Fraulein Anna came to live with her sister Frau Dorothea Handel at the Schlamm. Her coming banished all question of the child’s education in the tender years. Frau Dorothea was occupied with other cradles. She raised two girls, one of whom was in later years to have the proud knowledge of her brother’s achievements. Upon Anna Taust depended the main upbringing of this boy, and his mother, left with the nurture of two tender children, watched the influence of Tante Anna work itself upon this first child she had been able to rear. It is not easy to understand immediately this dislike of the Handels towards any form of music, without inquiring a little into the life of Halle at the time when George Frideric was in his childhood…..As surgeon at the Weissenfels Court the father of the child Handel travelled there at regular intervals by coach. And it was one of these journeys which decided the question of music for this child for all time. That Weissenfels journey was a divine accident or a premeditated act of equal inspiration. George Frideric Handel was at this time between seven and nine years old,….In any case the child was taken and lodged with the barber-surgeon’s nephew, Georg Christian Handel, who was engaged as valet-de-chambre at the palace. At Weissenfels the child immediately took possession of the affections of many, for he was intelligent beyond his years. Georg Christian, interested no doubt in his small relative, took him into the chapel. After that the child would go to the chapel for rehearsals, until the organist began to recognize the quaint little wondering figure. One day the organist seated the child at the instrument, and was astounded to find that he had some instinctive knowledge of music. It was a Sunday service which was the means of drawing the Duke’s attention to the child Handel. On this occasion the boy was allowed to attempt a voluntary at the end of the service. To a child something under nine, a modern organ would have been unmanageable, but the instrument in question was small, and the small fingers found melody and played. In the chapel the Duke listened. The notion of this child seated at what was in comparison a mighty instrument, amused him. He had more than average discernment where music was concerned, and he sent for the boy and his father. When the barber-surgeon took George Frideric to Weissenfels he had no suspicion of what was going to happen. The Duke in his remarks was brief and to the point. This child, he declared, had abnormal gifts; he had never known a child play in such a cultured manner before. He must be trained. In vain the barber-surgeon expostulated as energetically as he dared. He intended the child for the law, and no minor talents must defeat what the doctor believed to be the boy’s destiny. But to ignore gifts like these in a child was to fly in the face of God, the Duke declared. He produced some money and filled George Frideric’s small pocket with it. Whatever passions rose in the surgeon’s breast, he lost by this incident the battle for his son’s future. There was nothing left for him to say. The Duke insisted that the child should be taught music, and to decline or break the command would have meant risking George Frideric Handel his post at the Court. And he was a prudent man, ready, when someone greater than himself so demanded, to sacrifice even his own inclinations. He took George Frideric back to Halle and put him into the hands of Zachow, the organist at the Liebfrauenkirche, for his musical education……”
From other Chapters:
“….A sense of infinite responsibility must have come to the child of twelve as he stood in the death-chamber. This aged father, whom he had never understood, and who had never had the first understanding of his son, had been the axis around which the Handel family revolved. He had caused the ordering of everything without explanation. Now the boy had stepped into his shoes, and, looking to him as the head of the house, was a widowed mother, forty-five years of age, Aunt Anna, and two small sisters. His first act was to write a poem to the memory of his father. It appeared in a pamphlet issued on 14th February 1697, three days after the barber-surgeon’s death, and it was the first occasion on which the name of George Frideric Handel ever appeared in print….. One unwritten commandment made by the barber-surgeon remained. The boy was to train himself for the Law, and, when the venerable figure had gone, George Frideric pursued his studies with greater zeal than ever. All his leisure from his legitimate studies he devoted to music ; so much his father had agreed. Zachow was still helping him, and Zachow was doubtless responsible for the boy securing certain audiences for his playing which in the ordinary way he could not have obtained. Certainly he acquired, and very quickly acquired, a local reputation. People came from a distance to hear him perform….. Five years almost to a day (10th February 1702, at 17) after the death of the barber-surgeon, George Frideric Handel carried out what would have been his father’s most ardent wish — he entered Halle University as a student. But he did this purely for the sake of his social position, and not with the intention of embracing any particular study. His biographer, Chrysander, declares that he went to the University to study Law, but Handel did not enter himself among the Law Students, which is proof that obedience to the old barber-surgeon’s dictum had ceased to count. He had already chosen his career. The University at this period was comparatively new and was the outcome of the old academy for the nobility (Ritter Akademie), which the Elector of Brandenburg had founded in 1691….. Apparently both Mattheson and Handel were too scared by the notion of marriage, to wait to set eyes on this lady, for they scuttled out of Lubeck with all possible speed, more than a little pleased that their celibacy remained in no danger of violation….Had Handel yielded to this marriage as the price paid for a post which must have appealed to him all the more because of his impecunious condition, the whole course of his life, doubtless, would have been changed, but to the end of his days he shunned matrimony as he would the plague, and Mattheson, who was not a much greater success as a gallant, remained single until at the wane of his career he married the daughter of an English clergyman…. It was a rushed visit. He first stayed at Disseldorf, he passed on to Dresden. He went to Halle, and spent a few days with his mother to mourn with her over the family loss of the adorable Dorothea Sophie (1720, she was 33, and Handel 35) . Deeper and deeper was the gloom settling over the Schlamm house. Now he was the only child left of the old barber-surgeon’s second family. What a fading away of all that holds one to life the years had brought to the woman who, as Dorothea Taust, had come out of the seclusion of the Giebichenstein parsonage to marry the barber- surgeon, and bear him four children — the first a son to die at birth, the second a son who was to carry the Handel name to the far corners of the earth till the end of time, the third a daughter who had married Dr Michaelsen, and the fourth a daughter who had died of consumption just as Europe had begun to talk of the surviving brother….. Hearing that Handel was at Halle, Bach walked from Leipzig to meet him (some 30 miles, Bach then 35, same age of Handel). But he was too late. On the day that he entered the town Handel left it to return to England. One must wonder what would have been the effect of a meeting between Bach and Handel. Was it one of the greatest fortunes of Chance that they never met, or one of the world’s tragedies?….In the spring of 1731 Handel (at 47) was a solitary figure in the world. The Halle vault hid his two parents, the sisters had gone, Michaelsen, his brother-in-law, whom he only saw once, had married again and raised a new family. Michaelsen had become a rather prominent figure in German political life ; and if he had ever heard a Handel air played he would not have recognized it, for he had no interest in music. All the German ties were now to Handel as things of the dust……When Handel closed the theatre on Deidamia, his fortunes had reached their lowest ebb. And yet out of this welter of suffering came the glorious Messiah. He withdrew entirely from public life between February and November 1741. If he remained in London during that period no one was aware of it, for he shrank into greater seclusion. Again London repeated its old belief that Handel was finished and would be seen no more. He was not missed at Court. All the thought the King gave him he might have been some starveling tradesman who had put up the shutters after a valiant struggle to live. The King hated failures, or anything that suggested lack of comfort, and Handel had failed….At the end of August Handel, with the Pooley-Jennens words in front of him, sat down to the work of composition in the little front room of the house in Brook Street. He completed the first part in seven days, the second part in nine days, the third part in six days, filling in instrumentation two days. The whole of Messiah from beginning to end was set upon paper in twenty-four days. Considering the immensity of the work, and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps for ever, the greatest feat in the whole history of musical composition. It was the achievement of a giant inspired — the work of one who, by some extraordinary mental feat, had drawn himself | completely out of the world, so that he dwelt — or believed he dwelt — in the pastures of God. What precisely happened was that Handel passed through a superb dream. He was unconscious of the world during that time, unconscious of its press and call : his whole mind was in trance. He did not leave the house ; his man-servant brought him food, and as often as not returned in an hour to the room to find the food untouched, and his master staring into vacancy. When he had completed Part II, with the ” Hallelujah Chorus,” his servant found him at the table, tears streaming from his eyes. “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God, Himself!” he exclaimed. Of a certainty, Handel was swept I by some influence not of the world during that month — an influence not merely visionary. Never in his life had he experienced the same emotional sense, and he never experienced it again. For twenty-four days he knew those uplands reached, only by the higher qualities of the soul. He actually finished Messiah on 14th September 1741. On 29th September he completed the first part of another oratorio, Samson, from a libretto which Newburgh Hamilton had based upon Milton’s ” Samson Agonistes.” Yet he did not complete it until October of the following year…..London did not want Messiah. It was sung only on three occasions that season. The religious controversy kept many people away ; they argued that any work about the Omnipotent should never be performed in a playhouse. A few hailed it as a masterpiece in religious thought, but they were lone voices crying in a wilderness. The King attended one performance, and was so moved by the fervour of the ” Hallelujah Chorus ” that he rose to his feet and remained standing till the last chords had dropped to silence. For years the storm about performing a work of this nature in a playhouse rolled on. The clergy called the oratorio sacrilege and Handel a heretic. All leaders of religious thought were at one in their efforts to shut the theatre. There was nothing about Messiah that appealed to the age. It was outside the rut of eighteenth-century musical comprehension. No one really understood it. No one wanted to understand it. Yet an expert recently calculated that if the lowest royalty paid on a musical work had been paid on Messiah since it was first sung in London, over two million pounds would have been paid for performances in Britain alone on an oratorio which London at that time despised. The few who did understand it failed to convince the others. At a later revival a letter in the Talbot-Carter correspondence proved how sure was the opinion of a faithful minority. Miss Talbot wrote :
“The only public place I have been to this winter, was last Friday, to hear the Messiah, nor can there be a nobler entertainment. I think it is impossible for the most trifling not to be the better for it. I was wishing all the Jews, Heathens and Infidels in the world (a pretty full house you’ll say !) to be
present. The Morocco Ambassador was there, and if his interpreter could do justice to the divine words (the music anyone that has a heart must feel) how must he be affected, when in the grand choruses the whole audience solemnly rose up in joint acknowledgment that He who for our sakes had been despised and rejected of men, was their Creator, Redeemer, King of Kings, Lord of Lords ! To be sure the playhouse is an unfit place for such a performance, but I fear I shall be in Oxfordshire before it is heard at the Foundling Hospital, where the benevolent design and the attendance of little boys and girls adds a peculiar beauty even unto this noblest composition. But Handel who could suit such music to such words deserves to be maintained, and these two nights, I am told, have made him amends for the solitude of his other oratorios.”……One questions whether Handel ever had any thought of making money out of Messiah, and, since London did not seem to want it he withdrew it. 2 From time to time he revived it for a single performance. He associated it with all his later charity for the Foundling Hospital, and, during his lifetime, he raised eleven thousand pounds [2-3 million dollars or more in todays value] for the Hospital by its performance. Perhaps those days of its composition still bore their vivid impress. At any rate, when the Foundling Hospital wanted to get a Bill through Parliament to authorize the regular performance of Messiah, Handel rose in his wrath as if the Governors had trodden on sacred ground. They were
going to steal his rights — so he felt. ” What for they take my music to Parliament ! ” he exclaimed in his anger, and had the Bill withdrawn. He ultimately declared that “He saw the lovely youth” in Theodora — that later oratorio of ill-fortune — was the greatest chorus he ever wrote. The “Hallelujah Chorus” was his second favourite. But, as a work apart, Messiah was his one creation that ever pleased him, and which he never heavily altered. His final oratorio Jephtha remained fragrant to him till the end, because, as a complete work, it was the last offering of a fruitful life. The Triumph of Time and Truth sang always through his years, and was altered and re-altered, until the; work of 1708 would scarcely compare with the version of his later life. But Messiah remained to him the one beautiful thing that held in it all those vagrant thoughts he had ever had of religion and its influence. After Messiah had been produced in London, he happened to call upon Lord Kinnoul, who had heard the work and complimented Handel upon it. ” My lord,” replied Handel, ” I should be sorry if I only entertained them ; I wished to make them better.”……It would seem that Handel’s return had urged Morell to provide a new libretto for him, since upon his own showing he did not write Jephtha till January 1751, and Handel began its composition at the end of the month. Writing of his libretti Morell said : “My own favourite is Jephtha, which I wrote in 1751, and in the composing of which Mr Handel fell blind.”…. He was now seventy-four. His birthday came ; March passed. The season went on, with every seat sold for each performance. The clamour of spring swept with green gladness across the trees in the Park. The performance of his Messiah at Covent Garden, on 6th April, was to be his last. He carried it through to the final Amen without fatigue. Who associated Death with Handel at this hour ? Messiah had never been given better. The packed audience dispersed into the night entranced. Handel had been wonderful. He was always wonderful these days. But even as they talked he was lying in a faint at the theatre. They hurried him home to Brook Street. They put him to bed and called in his friend, Dr Warren. They did not know he was dying. So they spoke of his illness as a return of the old strain, due to the heavy season. Ten concerts in little over a month, and at the age of seventy-four ! Some day the veteran would learn his lesson….Only three days before he died he added a codicil to his will, clear, concise, and without any confusion as to his earthly affairs. Then, when the morning of Good Friday arrived, he bade farewell to all his friends in turn. He told his servant not to admit any of them again, for he had, he said, now done with the world. Only Dr Warren and the apothecary waited. Presently the latter, too, crept away, and left the doctor alone. The day bore to its close, and the silent figure on the bed still breathed. But Handel’s sun had set. There was night in the hills. Before the daylight was fully come his soul had passed……. So passed Handel, midst all the pomp and circumstance of a nation’s reverence. How different to the passing of some of the masters who came after him ! Chopin, — his bones rattled over the cobbles of Paris on his way to Pere Lachaise. Schubert, — and his brother pawning his coat to bury him. Bizet, —dying of starvation just as the acclaiming crowd poured out of the theatre after the first performance of Carmen. But each of the great ones, as they came, yielded his tribute to the feet of Handel. Beethoven, dying, pointed to the Arnold edition of Handel’s works, which were piled up in a corner of the room, and exclaimed : “There lies the truth!” Mozart declared, “When Handel chooses he can strike like a thunderbolt.” Gluck took Michael Kelly up to his room to show him “the portrait of the inspired master of our Art” whom he had always endeavoured to emulate, and pointed to a picture of Handel. Haydn worshipped his memory. And a greater judge than all — the musical world of nearly two hundred years, has acknowledged the genius of Handel. To many, he remains as the greatest dreamer in music the world has ever known. His whole life was a dream. And his every effort was votive offering to his temple of dreams — that temple which he always sought to make beautiful. He went to the Abbey as he would have wished — the acknowledged Master. Those who had laughed and jeered now came to mourn. Three thousand people gave him the tears of the world.”)