The Northwest Choral Society is coming along nicely in our preparation of Handel's Messiah. Messiah is one of my most favorite works of music. When I ponder what is it about this piece, I realized it is the continuity of theology, harmony, and affect of the music.
The theology can really be divided into three parts -- promise; joy; passion. The Christmas portion, which the NWCS is working on, is based on the promise of a coming Messiah in the Judaic teachings. However, the Messiah that arrived was not the battling champion expected. Rather, his teaching was one of peace, love and grace. The joy presented is one that is felt and expressed by Christians around the world. However, there is something beyond the Christmas story that effects humanity in the Western World at that time. People walk around smiling; there is a bounce in people's step. Citizens help each other out holding doors. The winter holidays are a time for joy for many people.
The passion part is generally the Easter portion and not discussed today.
I am a harmony guy. I love melody. But what Handel was a genius at was creating a mood or a particular affection based on the harmony alone. When the text supports a joyful mood, the harmony is bright and brilliant. When Handel describes the passion of the story, the harmonic language is tense, almost making the listener feel on edge. When there is a sense of calm and mystery, the music's harmony embodies the emotive quality of the text. Beethoven once said, "Handel was the greatest composer that ever lived. I would kneel at his grave and uncover my head."
If you have never experienced Messiah, please consider attending the Northwest Choral Society's concert. It will be filled with joy of the music, the theology of the Christmas season, and the passion of the singers who are working hard to bring out the emotive affectations of the text.
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