George Frideric Handel: Thus Saith the Lord

Messiah Part I


George Frideric Handel’s Messiah has remained one of the composer’s most beloved works. Incredibly, Handel completed this 260-page oratorio in just 24 days during the summer of 1741. The scriptural text was compiled by Charles Jennens, with the source being the King James Bible. The first performance of Messiah was on 13th April 1742, to celebrate Easter. 

Initially the oratorio garnered a lukewarm reception from audiences, however the work began to gain popularity over some years, with it now being the go-to work to perform during the Easter period. During this new Messiah exploration on Classicalexburns, blogs will be posted regularly to cover all of the pieces involved in making up this much-loved oratorio. 


The Lyrics

Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts: 

Yet once, a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come. 

(Haggai 2:6-7)

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, 

even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: 

Behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.

(Malachi 3:1)


The Music

After And the Glory of the Lord has finished, the oratorio moves onto the second scene. Now the music and lyrics speak of the apparition of God. The bass voice takes this recitative, which is accompanied by the orchestra. The lyrics are taken from both the words of the prophets Haggai and Malachi. 

The bass opens with the words of Haggai, who deals with the splendour of the temple. Handel uses some vivid word painting in this recitative as words such as ‘shake’ are presented in a downward melismatic fashion. The rumbling bass voice adds to this effect and creates a very effective vocal line. Handel uses the single male voice for Haggai’s words to show portray the ‘voice of God.’ The music takes a character turn for Malachi’s words. Initiated by an unaccompanied line, the words of this messenger end the recitative as the orchestra round the harmony back to the home key.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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