by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/20/14.
This is the story of another famous artist, whose masterpiece was titled simply Messiah, but which almost did not come about … if but for the intervention of God and the men he sent along George Frederick Handel’s path.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to tear down and a time to build.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 selected
His father was a no-nonsense, practical man. And though his young son showed a stunning talent for music, his father refused to permit him to take musical lessons. In 1693 a duke heard the eight- or nine-year-old playing an organ postlude in a worship service and demanded his father provide formal music training. By the time he was twelve, George Frederic Handel had written his first composition and often substituted for his music teacher. When his father died, he discontinued his law studies and devoted himself full time to the study of music.
Handel’s life continued to be fraught with setbacks, disappointments, financial woes, and illnesses. His music would fall in and out of favor with changing monarchs. And one musical success would often be followed by a financial disaster. Ill and swimming in debt, in 1741 he gave what he considered to be his farewell concert before retiring, perhaps to the debtor’s prison. Unexpectedly a wealthy friend gave Handel a libretto based on the life of Christ taken entirely from the Bible. Then again unexpectedly a Dublin charity commissioned him to compose a work for a benefit performance. Handel set to work composing and in 24 days he had filled 260 pages of manuscript with what he titled simply Messiah. When composer Franz Joseph Haydn heard its Hallelujah Chorus he wept like a child and exclaimed, “He is the master of us all!”
George Frederic Handel was blessed with an amazing ability to bounce back from repeated adversity. He seemed to understand the lesson of The Book of Ecclesiastes, that life not only includes times of setbacks and woes, but also times of progress and success. He refused to be discouraged by misfortune. Once when his friends gathered to console him about the extremely sparse attendance at one of his performances, he good-naturedly joked, “Never mind. The music will sound better” with the improved acoustics of an empty concert hall.
If Handel had given in to depression, attacks, illnesses, and financial woes a well loved work such as Messiah might never have been written. The Bible reminds us that setbacks, difficulties and challenges are part of life … along with happiness, success and achievement. Handel’s timeless Messiah stands as a testament to the graciousness of God amid the difficulties of life.