On Sunday, Katerina treated me to a concert performance of George Frederick Handel’s Messiah, performed by the Houston Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and conducted by Jane Glover. What an amazing and mesmerizing experience! This was my first time hearing Messiah, which is traditionally performed during the season of Advent. If you have the opportunity to attend a performance between now and Christmas, by all means do so. New York, Chicago, Montréal and London, for example, typically have performances of Messiah each year.
Oratory by Music
The Messiah is an Oratorio, but what exactly is it?
Oratorio means “oratory by music.” Oratorios were originally designed to educate people in significant portions of the Bible. They date back to the time when Bibles were so expensive that few could afford them, and of the few who could, fewer still were sufficiently educated to be able to read them. To overcome the barriers of ignorance, or unavailability of the Scriptures, the great texts of the Bible were put to music, and men were taught to learn and sing them. Some of this sacred music of the past is now incorporated in the hymns familiar to people all over the world; particularly the Psalms of David.
“Written for Education”
Handel’s oratorio presents oratory in music capable of thrilling audiences with some of the greatest and most beautiful truths of God’s word. This seems to have been partly the intention of the composer. At the conclusion of the first innovation at Dublin a friend approached Handel. “I must congratulate you upon such a beautiful piece of entertainment,” he said to the composer. “Entertainment!” exclaimed Handel, “That was not written for entertainment, it was written for education.” It is said, that on no occasion did Handel conduct this oratorio for money, but invariably for charity. However, if education was, indeed, his primary concern, it has hardly been an unqualified success, for few have appreciated the power of the words sung or heard.
The Two Advents of Christ
The Oratorio thus dramatises the two advents of Christ. First, when he appeared as the Lamb of God for the sin of the world 1,900 years ago (John 1:29), and second, when he shall again appear to set up on earth the Kingdom of his Father, and to reign at Jerusalem over a world at peace (Acts 1:11; 3:19-21; Rev. 1:7; Jer. 3:17; Luke 1:32-33).