George Friedrich Handel put on his white wig and his coat. He quickly left his temporary apartment in Dublin to go to the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street. It was April 13, 1742 and Handel was anxious for the first performance of his newest work, Messiah. Six weeks of planning and rehearsals would come together that night.
Handel made sure everything was in place hours before the performance began. The Great Music Hall would seat about 700 people. Women were asked to not wear hoops in their dresses and men were asked not to wear their swords, so there would be enough room for everyone that wished to be present.
As the hall began to fill, Handel became excited. Music was his life and this piece was special to him. He had written it in three weeks, a difficult feat, but Handel had written other similarly long compositions within a month’s time. However, this piece was different.
The text had been given to him from his friend Charles Jennens. He had a younger brother commit suicide and Jennens had found solace in the scriptures about Christ. So he compiled text that would depict Christ’s birth, atonement and glorious resurrection.
Handel had written other religious pieces in the past, but many were rejected by the churches in London, saying he wasn’t worthy to write music of sacred nature. Despite writing many musical oratorios, operas and private works, Handel was low on popularity and funds at this time in his life. But from the moment Handel started writing, he felt a special inspiration. He composed the 259 pages of hand written music with little interruption. At the end of the original score, Handel wrote “SDG” which stands for Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone the glory).
As the seats were nearly filled Handel looked at Susannah Cibber, one of his lead soloists for the production that night. Handel had worked with Cibber many times in the past. She was both famous and infamous: an established actress that had recently become embroiled in a scandalous divorce, which ended with her losing custody of her child. She had left London to get away from the scrutiny and hoped to begin again in Dublin. Handel was excited to have her talents and rewrote her part to accommodate her range. Her presence had helped raise awareness of the production. Handel looked at her face now and could see she was nervous. Perhaps she feared the pious members of the audience would scorn her just as clergy men had done in London.
If anyone can help her, it’s God, Handel thought to himself. If anyone can help me, it’s God.
Handel was recovering from a stroke, serious illness and financial ruin. He had been down and the piece he was debuting tonight was just what he needed, and just what Cibber needed. It would soothe their souls as the scriptures that inspired Messiah had soothed Jennens’ soul.
Handel smiled to himself. He knew that performing as a charity event would help with publicity, but giving all the proceeds to the debtor’s jail to free people that couldn’t free themselves, some for reasons beyond their control, was in perfect harmony with the message they would share at the performance. Christ was despised and acquainted with grief, and he freed all mankind. Handel hoped they would be able to free many debtors with this performance.
The first performance of Handel’s Messiah was a great success! Cibber had stepped forward and sang “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” showing apparent meekness and respect in her voice. After which, a prominent minister got up and said, “Woman, for this be all they sins forgiven thee!”
It was also a success because more than 142 indebted prisoners were released due to the money that was raised by the performance. Though it wasn’t well received in London for a long time, Handel continued to use it as a fundraiser for charities for the rest of his life, often helping out orphanages and hospitals.
(Here is a link to a cool documentary on Handel’s Messiah)
Handel’s Messiah is arguably one of the greatest and most recognized pieces of music in the world, especially around Christmas time. Handel didn’t start with Messiah though. As a young boy he practiced in the attic while his father slept because his father didn’t approve of young Handel pursuing music.
Handel practiced writing music. While his Messiah was probably divinely aided, which accounts for the relative lack of mistakes and the superior flow of the piece, Handel wrote and composed more music than Beethoven and Bach. Unlike many of the musicians of his time, Handel remained mostly independent from aristocratic patronage, giving him freedom to focus on touching the human soul with his music rather than pleasing one person’s taste.
To achieve your goals and vision, you must practice what will get you there. If you want to become a concert violinist, you must practice. If you want to hike Mt. Everest, you must practice hiking. If you want to be successful at business, you must consistently work at your trade.
We are closing in on the end of 2016 and getting ready for 2017. Whether you call them new year’s resolutions, goals or dreams, I hope you set your sites on doing something this year to improve yourself and get closer to your dreams. Write them down, identify what needs to be done, get a good team to support you and schedule time each day to work on your goal. As you work on it daily, your efforts will add up to create an experience that builds confidence for more exciting dreams.