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Handel’s Messiah, The Hallelujah Chorus. Music for the downsized.

Handel found the perfect pitch for a financial crisis in The Book of Revelation with its message that “the Kingdom of this world” will at a moment in time become “the Kingdom of our Lord, forever and ever.”

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By 1740 Handel had exhausted every creative trick to keep alive his company that put on Italian opera in London. The public was newly embolden with Protestant revivals and nationalism. They wanted English-language operas, not Italian, and Biblical stories, not Greek or Roman myths. Handel noticed that his English oratorios had some success. As audiences diminished, Handel couldn’t afford the elaborate productions that Italian opera demanded. He shed employees until there was only himself left. He let himself go and the company closed. He faced a personal apocalypse. He needed to reinvent himself, and quickly, if he was to pay his bills.

He took himself off into solitude for a couple of weeks to read The Book of Revelation, the apocalyptic book that ends the Bible with a look toward the future salvation of the world. During this time, he wrote the “Messiah.” His friend, the literary scholar Charles Jennens, provided the Bible verses on the song sheet.

Handel found the perfect pitch for the moment in The Book of Revelation with its message that “the Kingdom of this world” will at a moment in time become “the Kingdom of our Lord, forever and ever.” It turned out to be a hallelujah moment for Handel’s finances also.

The English-singing “Messiah” was an immediate success at its premier. And its profits were higher because an oratorio requires many fewer musicians and less costuming than an opera. Handel never returned to producing Italian operas.

The musical rendition of the futuristic Book of Revelation turned out to be salvation for the downsized.


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