Learn about the history and success of Handel's Messiah with The Making of Handel's Messiah book review. See how G.F. Handel created the timeless masterpiece.
The Making of Handel’s Messiah book review
Handel’s Messiah has become one of the most beloved and celebrated musical works ever composed, captivating listeners with its majestic choruses and memorable arias. Written by George Frideric Handel (baptized Georg Friedrich Händel) in 1741, the piece has since become an iconic representation of the Baroque period.
Over two centuries later, author Andrew Gant has compiled a review of the masterpiece in his book The Making of Handel’s Messiah. This article will explore the impactful story behind Handel’s work and provide an in-depth analysis of Gant’s book.
What is Handel’s Messiah?
Handel’s Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed by German Baroque composer George Frideric Handel in 1741, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.
The oratorio was written during Handel’s time in London, after his move from Germany to take up residence in England. Before coming to England, Handel had achieved great success as a composer with works such as Almira, his opera which premiered in Hamburg, Germany. Immediately he set foot in London, Handel hit the ground running, composing Acis and Galatea, one of his most famous masques.
The musical piece is composed of three parts, each divided into several movements. The first part celebrates Christ’s nativity, while the second focuses on his passion and resurrection. The last part consists of hymns of praise, which are often featured at Christmas or Easter services.
Handel’s Messiah premiered at the Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. It was then performed in London at Westminster Abbey on March 23, 1743, to commemorate the coronation of George II as king of England. George II (elector of Hanover) had been Handel’s patron before his coronation.
Afterward, it gained recognition throughout Europe and was performed by some of England’s greatest composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Mozart, and Handel himself in Hamburg’s Opera House, Egypt, Italy (Venice), and his native city Halle.
Handel had already made a name for himself with his Water Music Suite written for King George I (the first British monarch from the House of Hanover), with several high-profile performances on the river Thames. Notably, Queen Anne granted him an annual income after composing the Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate, a sacred choral dedicated to her.
One reason the Messiah turned out to be such an outstanding piece of classical music was its combination of dramatic gestures with religious fervor and Handel’s use of classical instruments. These include the harpsichord, organ concertos, strings, and choral singing (soloists, organists, and soprano voices). In addition, Handel set up The Royal Academy of Music, an opera company in England, enabling him to make the most of his international networks to promote his music.
After composing Messiah, Handel did not compose any other Italian opera. However, some of Handel’s operas recorded in English came much later. For example, Music for the Royal Fireworks was composed in 1749. His coronation anthems for royal occasions were regularly performed in Westminster Abbey, including the Hallelujah Chorus and Zadok the Priest. Interestingly, Zadok the Priest has been performed in every British coronation since 1727.
Handel also composed concerti grossi and many other operas, including Rinaldo (1711), Samson (1743), and Semele (1744). Besides Messiah, he composed other oratorios and librettos, such as Saul, Solomon, Esther, Israel, and Jephtha.
The baroque era significantly influenced Handel’s music, making him one of the greatest baroque composers. His ability to combine Italian opera elements into English oratorios like Messiah resulted in excellent songs that are still popular today.
Just before his death, Handel organized a live performance of Messiah at Foundling Hospital, with all the proceeds going toward treating children at the facility. After his death in 1759, the Handel House museum was set up in London to celebrate an immensely talented composer.
The approach to the masterpiece in The Making of Handel’s Messiah
In his book The Making of Handel’s Messiah, Andrew Gant considers Handel an international synthesis and looks at the multi-cultural influences that shaped the composer’s life and work.
He explores how Handel’s career was shaped by a mix of English and German cultural identities, which he adopted throughout his lifetime, noting, in particular, the influence of traditional German music on Handel’s musical composition.
In addition, Gant combines meticulous research with a deep appreciation for the work itself. He delves into the archives and libraries to uncover details about Messiah‘s composition, reviewing manuscripts and copies of scores from hundreds of years ago.
Moreover, he delves into contemporary works from other composers to draw comparisons and highlight Handel’s extraordinary achievement in a historical context. All of this enables Gant to provide readers with an illuminating interpretation of the work that few have been able to replicate.
The result is a vivid narrative that invites readers to explore not just the music but also its cultural context.
About the author
Andrew Gant is a highly accomplished and respected musician and composer. He has combined a career in music with research and teaching for over 20 years.
His involvement with choral music began when he was a scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge. He subsequently attended the Royal Academy of Music and Goldsmiths College, earning his Ph.D. in composition and 20th-century music.
For 13 years, from 2000 to 2013, he was organist, choirmaster, and composer at Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal, conducting numerous state events and composing many new works. As part of this role, he oversaw the music for royal weddings including Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
He has also sung tenor professionally with various vocal ensembles, conducted choirs in prestigious venues such as Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, and composed works ranging from sacred pieces to popular songs.
Listen to other biographical and non-fiction books with Speechify
Speechify is an audiobook service that offers an extensive library of titles, including biographies and other stories. The platform provides users with a wide selection of expertly voiced books available to download in high-quality audio files. This tool makes it easy to find your favorite authors and genres, enabling you to access immersive stories anytime, anywhere.
But how does Speechify work?
All you have to do is register for an account and begin searching for books. You can also save your favorite titles in your personal library and easily revisit them whenever you want.
Once you’ve chosen the book you want, you simply hit play and start listening—no streaming or waiting is required. Plus, Speechify offers a range of features, such as adjustable playback speeds, bookmarking capabilities, and sleep timers for a customized listening experience.
So why not give Speechify a try? With over 60,000 titles available, it’s one of the best places to indulge in captivating stories told by expert narrators.
What permanent disability did Handel suffer from?
Toward the end of his life, Handel suffered a severe stroke that left him with lasting disabilities.
What did Beethoven say about Handel?
Beethoven was famously quoted to have said the following about Handel while attending a performance of the oratorio The Messiah: “Handel is the greatest composer that ever lived…I would uncover my head and kneel down.”