Isaiah 40: Handel Messiah

Every valley shall be exalted

HandelOne of the odd results of the COVID lockdown is that I now attend two Bible studies each week. I started going to the Tuesday at 9 a.m. group shortly after I retired over a year ago.

It used to be that I couldn’t attend the Thursday at 7 a.m. group because I had to make sure my daughter got off to school in the morning. But now that she’s attending classes remotely, and the groups are doing the same, I can do both. The Tuesday group reads the chapters from the Old and New Testaments straight through. We’re reading Numbers and (again) Matthew.

The Thursday group reads from something called the lectionary. Basically, in Christianity, it’s a list of Scripture lessons to be read on particular days of the year. The Old Testament reading for December 6 is the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, the first 11 verses. It is an exceedingly familiar text.

Part 1

The first three verses [except the bracketed part] is the text for No. 2 of the Handel Messiah, Comfort ye my people, tenor recit.

1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: [for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.]

3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

No. 3, Every valley shall be exalted, tenor air

4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

No. 4, And the glory of the Lord, chorus

5 And the glory of the Lord</em> shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

No. 9, O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion, alto air and chorus

9 O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

No. 20, He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, alto air

11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

These are all presented here by the Sixteen Harry Christophers.

Compare the above with the version of Comfort Ye My People by Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Daryl Coley. Then check out Every Valley Shall Be Exalted by Lizz Lee and Chris Willis (with Mike E.) They are from Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration.

Handel: Worthy Is the Lamb

Blessing and honor

Worthy is the LambIf you had asked me earlier this year if I had ever sung Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain I would have said no. This is why I don’t trust my memory.

There’s a gentleman named Don Ingram who played organ. For his 70th birthday, he conducted a 2002 performance of the entire Messiah. I found the program I recently found in MY Messiah score. Doesn’t EVERYONE have a Messiah score? It sits on the shelf right next to my Mozart Requiem score, naturally.

Messiah was composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, and first performed in Dublin on 13 April 1742. It received “its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.”

The choruses for the first part of the Messiah I’ve sung several times. It’s often performed during Advent, that period just before Christmas. That includes And the Glory of the Lord, And He Shall Purify the Sons of Levi, For Unto Us a Child is Born, and Glory to God in the Highest. The first I’ve likely sung the most.

The second section addresses the Lent to Easter period. Behold the Lamb of God, Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs and Carried Our Sorrows, and All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray I’ve performed a few times, but there are other pieces less familiar to me.

But THE most familiar piece in the whole work is in that section. Hallelujah I’ve sung almost every Easter morning for decades.

Part the third

Part 3 is sometimes performed in that period between Easter and Pentecost. Since by Man Came Death I’ve sung a bit. But less so for Thanks Be to God.

If it had not been for the shutdown, I would be singing Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain/Amen tomorrow. I find it inspirational. And the final cadence of the Amen is even emotional. I find lots of final phrases in familiar classical music make me verklempt.

Listen to Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Hallelujah chorus.

Since by Man Came Death.

But Thanks Be to God.

Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain/Amen.


Handel Messiah Part 3 – Octopus Symphony Chorus.

Handel Messiah, complete – London Philharmonic.

Christmas: the waiting is over

The Dream Isaiah Saw

The Christmas waiting is over. Now you can open those presents. Grumpy Uncle Harry will be going home soon.

Understand that some folks don’t have any presents. There was a nice story in PostSecret recently. An overworked, injured waitress/mom wrote: “I wish Santa Claus was real, so on Christmas, no child would have to go without, and no parent would have to feel like they failed their child.” The bottom line: some folks sent money to a PayPal account.

“Santa Claus is real, and alive and well,” she wrote. “I’m overwhelmed by the love and generosity strangers have shown my family today… I’ve got what I need, so please remove my PayPal account from PostSecret, and I urge anyone who wants to help someone in need to get in touch with their local charities.”

Interestingly, our pastors have shown us in a series of sermons What Can’t Wait, such as repentance. The term, in some traditions, has meant literally turning one’s body in a new direction. Repentance can be rooted in Christian theology, of course. Still, the idea of turning away from things that aren’t working can be a powerful thing. Is that why people come up with New Years’ resolutions at this time of year?

I’m utterly fascinated by the decidedly mixed reaction to the Methodist church’s nativity scene depicts Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as separated and caged family. Like much of good art, it’s designed to make one think.

Music in December

The first three I’ve sung this month.

E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come by Paul Manz, which we do almost every Advent. My sister Leslie posted this version on Facebook.

The Dream Isaiah Saw, which is rooted in this familiar scripture:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Gloria – John Rutter.

I didn’t sing Handel this year, but I have a half dozen times in the past: Handel Messiah (Christmas Portion) – Robert Shaw and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus.

1 Corinthians in Handel’s Messiah

Behold, I tell you a mystery

1 Corinthians 15-55One of the few things I have added to my list of things to do is attending a weekly Bible study at my church. The group was in the midst of reading the Koran in the first part of the sessions; interesting stuff.

The second half was reading the Bible, specifically, when I started, 1 Corinthians. This is the book that contains that reading of Chapter 13 that is used so often at weddings, though the King James Version ends with “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” But the Revised Standard Version and most later translations conclude with “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Chapter 15 is quite familiar as well. “The center of Part III [of Handel’s Messiah] is a sequence of six movements based on a passage from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians on the resurrection of the dead, a passage that Brahms also chose for Ein deutsches Requiem.”

As I happen to be the reader in Bible study,

it was VERY difficult NOT to break into song!

46 Since by man came death (Chorus) 1 Corinthians 15:21–22
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

47 Behold, I tell you a mystery (Acc. B) 1 Corinthians 15:51–52 Resurrection of the dead
48 The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be rais’d (Air B) 15:52–53
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

49 Then shall be brought to pass (Rec. A) 1 Corinthians 15:54 Victory over death
50 O death, where is thy sting? (Duet A) 15:55–56
51 But thanks be to God (Chorus) 15:57
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here’s the entire Part III of Handel Messiah, including 45. I know that my Redeemer liveth (Air S) from Job 19:25–26; 52. If God be for us, who can be against us (Air S) from Romans 8:31,33–34; and 53. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain/Amen (Chorus) from Revelation 5:12–13.

Various artists
The Bach Choir & Orchestra of the Netherlands, Pieter Jan Leusink

Paradox of Christmas: For unto us a child is born

And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace

Keep Christ in ChristmasIn the sermon for the first Sunday in Advent, one of my pastors hit on something that I could relate to. My takeaway is that there is a paradox of Christmas.

A child is born, yet the Scripture that day was of the adult Jesus anticipating the cross. So Christmas is about the infant AND the Savior.

That message is encapsulated in the Hebrew text from Isaiah, in what is usually called the Old Testament:

Chapter 9, verse 6 reads: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

A lot of potentiality in that kid.

Merry Christmas.

Unsurprisingly, For Unto Us A Child Is Born from Handel’s Messiah

Sir Colin Davis conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and the Tenebrae choir

A more sprightly take

I’ve listened to the entire Messiah this autumn and was newly enthralled by the piece that reportedly took only three weeks to compose. If you are so inclined, the whole magilla:

Collegium 1704, director Vaclav Lucs

London Philharmonic