Merry Christmas! For today’s post, I thought the most appropriate “song” might be Messiah, the most significant musical work ever composed about the life of Christ within the context of Biblical Old Testament prophecies about his birth and Gospels about his life, death, and resurrection.
The best overall version of Handel’s Messiah that I’ve found online—that is, the version I most prefer 🙂 —is the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance. The almost ludicrously ornamental vocal and instrumental acrobatics are characteristic of the Italian opera that was extremely popular in 18th-century London. And Handel was one of the most famous composers of Italian opera. Although born in Germany, he traveled to Italy in his early twenties and began writing opera there. A few years later Handel emigrated to London, shortly before his employer, the German Prince George, also emigrated to become King George I of Great Britain and Ireland.
Obviously the most appropriate Messiah chorus for today would be “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.” Here is the London Symphony Orchestra’s “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.”
And here is the more famous “Hallelujah” chorus. As the story goes, Handel was overcome by emotion and in tears when he finished writing this piece, exclaiming to a visitor, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.”
Below is my favorite Messiah chorus, “And He Shall Purify the Sons of Levi.” I’m including the video here, just because 🙂
And finally—ironically, I guess, to put at the end of this post—here is Messiah‘s “Overture.” I had to search YouTube to find a performance that best fits my “ideal”—not too ponderously slow, not too fast, and with just the right amount of embellishment in terms of trilled notes (rather than plain and unornamented, because remember this is basically 18th-century Italian opera). The version below, by the City of Preston Orchestra in the United Kingdom, gets it right.
When I close my eyes and listen to this “Overture” through headphones, I truly feel what Handel described: that I can see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.