Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Greetings from My Anonymous Friend

For me Christmas memories involve many things. Cold, snowy weather, church and school programs, special food, candy and cookies, family gatherings, gifts, and of course, music. I was raised in a German home so we learned the carols in both English and German. I find myself still able to recall the words to songs we sang 50 years ago. I also remember that George F. Handel's Messiah was a big part of Christmas for us. We sometimes found a church or community group somewhere that was performing it and we would attend.

I also remember that every Christmas morning the Queen of England gave a Christmas greeting to her subjects and later some radio station would always play Messiah by Handel in its entirety. In my college days I had the privilege of being part of a huge oratorio chorus and symphony orchestra that performed Messiah in Chicago. I have this magnificent music in long playing records, CD, and now in my I-pod. Today it is difficult to find any group performing this oratorio and I am grieved that the Hallelujah chorus has been cheapened as it is used sometimes in commercials and other flippant settings. But not always!! I hope your computer has the ability to download this short clip. It is incredibly inspiring and takes place "spontaneously" in a Canadian mall. I have been sent this same video by several people this season and in case you have not seen it yet, here it is. If you copy and paste it into your search engine it should open up. It worked as I tried it just now.

I wish to write a little about Handel today. I have long marvelled at his incredible ability to write an entire oratorio that is almost verbatim from King James Bible selections. Messiah has three parts and Handel brilliantly captures the messages of Christ's advent and birth, then His passion and resurrection, and finally prophetic words about His second coming. It is majestic. Words cannot describe the inspiration millions of people have received over the years as they have listened to the words and the beautiful music.

Handel (1685-1759) was born in Germany and lived in several countries before becoming a British citizen in 1726. I have seen his burial place in Westminster Abbey in London. Handel's father did not want his son to pursue a career in music and preferred he should study law instead. However, the young Handel somehow got a clavichord into the attic of his family home where he would sneak away at night to practice. Over the years Handel wrote many operas, cantatas, oratorios, and concertos. Messiah was written in only twenty-four days and it is said that Handel hardly slept during this time. He was a stickler for excellence and often tore up scores he wrote until they were exactly as he wanted them to be. In 1742 his oratorio was first performed in Dublin.

One of the traditions of Messiah is that when the strains of the Hallelujah chorus begin, the audience rises to its feet. This tradition began with King George II. When a monarch stands, everyone in the audience does too! Was King George II recognizing a greater Monarch than himself? Or was he just moved by the music? We do not know for sure but I would like to believe the former to be the case.

I find it fascinating what other great composers and musicians thought of Handel. Mozart, who was just a young lad when Handel died, said, "Handel understands effect better than any of us. When he chooses he strikes like a thunder bolt!" That describes how I feel when I hear that first "Hallelujah!" Beethoven who was born eleven years after Handel died, wrote, "Handel was the master of us all, the greatest composer who ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb!" As they say, it takes one to know one!! This is quite a compliment.

There is a story about Handel I like very much because it expresses my own inability to describe the majesty and inspiration of Messiah. One day his assistant shouted in futility to get Handel's attention. He finally entered the room where Handel was and asked, "What is the matter?" Handel looked up with tears in his eyes. In his hand he held the score of the Hallelujah chorus. Handel said, "I thought I saw the face of God!" ...

... Today, there are storms in Europe affecting air travel in Paris and London. Here in California there is heavy rain with snow in the elevations. There are also other storms in our world. Great suffering and anguish, incredible uncertainties and anxiety about economies and terror wars. In all of this we pause to remember the Messiah! He came as God in the flesh as a little baby. This is what we are celebrating! He had a timetable to be born in Bethlehem and He has a timetable and a plan for each of us individually and for this world!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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