For unto us a child is born
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past year you will now that 2009 is the 250th anniversary of the death of George Frideric Handel, the great composer who was born in what is now Germany but who moved to London in 1712 and became an adopted Englishman, taking up Britisch citizenship in 1727. BBC Radio 3 has been celebrating all year, and I’ve heard lots of Handel’s prolific output for the first time thanks to them. I am a bit ashamed that I have put any Handel on here so far. I certainly don’t mean to imply that I don’t like his music – far from it, in fact – he’s so good that I can even put up with the harpsichords. Sometimes. I guess it’s just that I never got around to it and wasn’t sure what to pick.
Anyway, it’s time to correct this error of omission. This is an appropriate time of year, in fact. Like many brought up in England (or Wales), one of the essential rituals of Christmas time is listening to Messiah. This is a little strange because it was originally intended to be performed at Easter. Another strange tradition is that everyone (orchestra, choir and audience) stands during the famous Hallelujah Chorus. Legend has it that this is because King George II stood when he heard it and, following Royal protocol, everyone else had to stand too. For some reason, over two hundred years later it still happens. It’s just one of those things that stuck.
However, after much thought, I decided not to use the Hallelujah Chorus here, but not because I don’t like it. It’s a thrilling piece and full of nostalgia for me too. The reason is that for many people it’s all they ever hear, and there’s a lot more to Messiah than that. So I’ve gone for another piece, which suits the season especially well and also exemplifies Handel’s gift for vocal and orchestral writing. This sprightly and engaging version was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis.
My compliments of the season!