George Frideric Handel was born in Germany in 1685. His father wanted him to study law, but George Fideric had an aptitude for music. His mother bought him a harpsichord, which they kept up in the attic, secret from his father and by the time he was twelve, Handel had written his first work. Later, after his father’s death, George Frideric tried to study law, but he had no interest. Music was too important to him. In 1712, Handel moved to England and never returned to Germany. It was here that Handel wrote the masterpiece he would be remembered for – Messiah.
Amazingly, “Messiah” came at a time in his life when the 56-year-old Handel was facing bankruptcy and complete failure. He also had serious health problems.
But 1741 proved to be the turning point. A friend of his, Charles Jennens, gave him a libretto (a text for an opera) for a sacred work. It contained 73 Bible verses, focused on Jesus, Messiah and King of Kings, both from the Hebrew and the Christian Bible.
Handel began composing on August 22. He grew so absorbed in the work that he rarely left his London home, and barely even stopped to eat. Within six days Part One was complete. In nine days more he had finished Part Two, and in another six, Part Three. The orchestration was completed in another two days. In all, 260 pages of manuscript were filled in the remarkably short time of 24 days.
Near the end of his composition Handel’s manservant entered the room to find the composer had
tears in his eyes. Handel cried out, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” He had just finished writing the “Hallelujah” Chorus.
When Messiah was completed Handel wrote the letters "SDG" at the end of the manuscript —Soli Deo Gloria = To God Alone the Glory
“Messiah” was first performed in Dublin in 1742 as benefit concert for charity. It was often performed for various charity events that never failed to raise money for the poor, orphanages and hospitals.
The Church of England, however, criticized Handel for using Scripture in his work. They believed Scripture should remain in the Church. Even after Messiah was becoming well-known, as great a religious figure John Newton, composer of the hymn "Amazing Grace," preached often against the "secular" performances of this biblical oratorio.
However, a year later, King George II was present at the first performance of “Messiah” in London. Some say that the monarch fell asleep and at the opening of the “Hallelujah” Chorus, he got up thinking it was for him. Others say that he was so moved by the grandeur of the orchestration that he rose in awe. Whatever the reason, he stood, and that has been the custom ever since—everyone is to stand during the “Hallelujah” Chorus. About 100 years later, even the weak, aged Queen Victoria, who sat in her wheelchair struggled to her feet as the chorus began and the choir sang, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” She said, “No way will I sit in the presence of the King of kings.”
At that first London performance, Lord Kinnoul congratulated Handel on the “excellent entertainment”. Handel replied, "My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertain them. I wish to make them better."
A few days before Handel died, he expressed his desire to die on Good Friday. He wanted this he said, "in the hopes of meeting his good God, his sweet Lord and Savior, on the day of his Resurrection." He lived until the morning of Good Saturday, April 14, 1759.
His death came only eight days after his final performance, at which he had conducted his masterpiece, Messiah. Handel was buried in Westminster Abbey, with over 3,000 in attendance at his funeral. A statue there shows him holding the manuscript for the solo that opens Part Three of Messiah. On it, the words of Handel’s heart, "I know that my Redeemer liveth."