G.F. Handel by Philip Mercier. Source: Wikipedia
The lights dim, the audience hushes. The notes of the overture begin. As the symphonic introduction winds down, anticipation builds. Soon the words to the first air ring out: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. Speak comfortably to Jerusalem and cry out that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.”
For three centuries listeners have thrilled to the music of Handel’s Messiah. Its initially modest reception has grown over the years. Now it’s one of the best-known and most frequently heard compositions in the world. Originally performed at Easter, it has become a staple of the Christmas holiday season.
Its message of comfort, redemption, and rejoicing are universal. We all need comfort and encouragement. As we contemplate the many issues we face – private and public – Handel’s three-part structure of prophecy, passion, and promise speaks as clearly to us today as it in 18th-century England: there’s always hope; never give up; trials and tears eventually give way to joyous celebration. The gentle melody of “Comfort ye” moves to the brilliant “Halleluiah Chorus” and closes with the ornate counterpoint of the “Amen.”
Covent Garden in London. Public Domain. Source: Archive.org
This holiday season, the music seems especially poignant: political conflict just gets more intense; Russia and North Korea appear intent on causing chaos; and we all face personal issues and concerns. Our daily schedules are dominated by daunting challenges and flashpoint events. Handel’s Messiah says something different: “Comfort, comfort.”
The music calls to our hearts as well as our heads. Its story of hope is timeless. Here’s wishing everyone a hopeful – and comforting – holiday season.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA