Then Sings My Soul
Great Songs of Faith - Part XIII
Hallelujah Chorus (from Handel's Messiah)
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations," The Lord reigns!" I Chronicles 16:31 (NIV)
His father tried to discourage his musical interests, preferring that he enter the legal profession. But it was the organ, harpsichord, and violin that captured the heart of young George Frideric Handel. Once, accompanying his father to the court of Duke Johann Adolf, George wandered into the chapel, found the organ, and started improvising. The startled duke exclaimed, "Who is this remarkable child?"
This "remarkable child" soon began composing operas, first in Italy and then in London. By his 20s, he was the talk of England and the best paid composer on earth. He opened the Royal Academy of Music. Londoners fought for seats at his every performance, and his fame soared around the world.
But the glory passed. Audiences dwindled. His music became outdated, and he was thought of as an old fogey. Newer artists eclipsed the aging composer. One project after another failed, and Handel, now bankrupt, grew depressed. The stress brought on a case of palsy that crippled some of his fingers. "Handel's great days are over," wrote Frederick the Great, "his inspiration is exhausted."
Yet his troubles also matured him, softening his sharp tongue. His temper mellowed, and his music became more heartfelt. One morning Handel received by post a manuscript from Charles Jennens. It was a word-for-word collection of various biblical texts about Christ. The opening words from Isaiah 40 moved Handel: Comfort ye, comfort ye my people ...
On August 22, 1741, Handel shut the door of his London home and started composing music for the words. Twenty-three days later, the world had Messiah. "Whether I was in the body or out of the body when I wrote it, I know not," Handel later said, trying to describe the experience.
Messiah opened in London to enormous crowds on March 23, 1743, with Handel leading from his harpsichord. King George II, who was present that night, surprised everyone by leaping to his feet during the Hallelujah Chorus, though no one knows why. Some believe the king, being hard of hearing, thought it the national anthem.
No matter - from that day, audiences everywhere have stood in reverence during the stirring words: Hallelujah! For He shall reign forever and ever. Handel's fame was rekindled, and even after he lost his eyesight, he continued playing the organ for performances of his oratorios until his death in London, April 14, 1759.