The year was 1741 and the German born Englishman had just suffered several failures of his most recent operas in London. Depressed and in debt, he was approached by his friend Charles Jennens who handed him a compilation of biblical texts to be used in an oratorio presenting Jesus the Messiah to a skeptical England. It was an age of rationalism, not unlike our own, and Charles Jennens wished to combat the prevalent Deism of the day. Deism holds that though there is some form of intelligence which began the universe this Intelligence does not interfere with it. It maintains that God is outside of the universe and stays out. Jennens wished that these Scriptural texts be used to present the Christian view that not only does God interact with his creation, it is critical for us that He does so. Into diseased humanity God injected Himself - the antidote. From the outside, a holy and perfect God would only terrify and crush us. From the inside though, He would transform and redeem and heal us. And so these texts, taken directly from the King James Bible, begins with the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah, continues with the narrative of Christ’s birth and then centers on the life, death, resurrection and final glorification of Jesus the Messiah.
Handel was just the man to compose this oratorio using Jennens text. Not only was he one of the greatest composers of all time, I like to imagine that the recent failure of his operas in England drove him to the end of himself and allowed God to do a mighty creative work through His now broken vessel. Perhaps this is fiction, but if so, it’s good fiction. What we do know is that when he came to the point of writing the Hallelujah chorus, his assistant found him in tears crying “I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God.”
Handel composed the Messiah in 24 days. Though in making my version I did not set out to do the same, this is essentially what happened. I started composing the songs for this album on December 10, 2010 (using the same exact biblical texts Handel used). I finished the initial composition and rough draft recording of each on January 2, 2011 (exactly 24 days). I share this not to put my feeble creation here on any kind of common footing with Handel’s. It’s just an interesting fact I thought. Though I don’t know what Handel’s experience was in interacting with the Scriptural texts during those 24 days, I know that for myself it was a deeply edifying and enriching time as each evening after work I would submit myself to a new set of Scripture texts, would listen several times to Handel’s expressions of those texts and then would start playing guitar and singing eager to see what would happen this time and where it would go.
Though full of imperfections, my hope is that at least for my kids and for their kids this work would be a testimony of one broken human beings joy in being lifted out of the mire of himself and into the new creation Jesus saved us to and for.