Thursday, November 4, 2010

Comfort Ye

I've been spending a lot of time listening to classical music lately. This is a new thing for me, I've always loved classical music and listened to it frequently, however, it's all I listen to lately. The primary piece I have been listening to is "Messiah" by George Frederic Handel.

This was my mother's favorite music and we listened to it several times during the week she was dying. I'm usually not a maudlin person that holds onto things because they 'belong' to something or someone that isn't with me any longer, but lately, this music is providing me with a lot of comfort. “Comfort Ye My People” indeed.

The "Messiah" is an Oratorio. Similar to an opera, an Oratorio has a libretto; however, an Oratorio is usually associated to a sacred theme such as the passion of Christ. An opera is a theater piece with characters, a story as well as an orchestra, choir and arias and have more typically secular themes. An oratorio is usually suitable for a church. Protestant composers typically focused on biblical themes and Catholic composers tended more towards the lives of saints as musical inspiration

George Frederic Handel was a prolific oratorist, with "Messiah" being the most well known today. Composed in just 24 days, it's said that the patron that requested the piece was not happy with the result created by Handel. He felt that Handel had ruined the intent of the libretto he gave him with the music he composed. Little did he know about that this would become as beloved as it it has over the past 300 years.

There is no "authentic" arrangement of this production as Handel would change the arrangements of the music to suit the instruments he had available for the production. In my opinion, this adds to the beauty of the piece as it is able to evolve based on the current modes of instrumentation rather than being constrained to a vision that was popular three centuries ago. This allows us to enjoy such productions as the Silent Monks singing the Hallelujah Chorus without a hint of sacrareligiousness. (so worth watching when you need a good laugh.)

When I listen to this music, my heart swells with the majesty of it. The instruments speak to each other, questioning and answering, providing their own track of wordless lyrics. When the Hallelujah Chorus plays, it's all I can do not to jump up to listen to it when I'm at work. I did once without thinking and ended up with a welt on my face from the backlash of my ear bud cord.

I love the way the word are pronounced. The suffix 'ed was pronounced separately in the music. "Call-ed" and "Despise-ed". From my research, this was common for the time, in both music and poetry. I love how the words are matched by the music. Handel was known for "word Painting" which was matching the notes to the meaning of the words (i.e. the word 'high' would always be a high note and a low note would accompany the word 'low').

Speaking of phrasing, up until I was in my 30's, I couldn't figure out why it mattered that the chorus liked sheep. I didn't understand that the phrase was "All we, like sheep, have gone astray" not "We like sheep and the sheep that we like have gone astray". I giggle every time I hear this part now, even though I know it's a serious topic.

The music brings my mother to me. I feel her presence when I listen; knowing how she felt about the music has helped me to appreciate it even more than ever.

Consider attending a production of the Messiah, either as audience or participant in a sing-a-long, this year. The beauty and meaning of this music is moving and helps reconnect us to the Annunciation, the Passion, and the Aftermath of the life of Jesus Christ through a vehicle that can be meaningful to everyone. I have found one here in Chicagoland that I hope to attend the first weekend in December. I know that I will attend with the brush of my mother against my heart.