Handel’s “Messiah”

From That Controversial ‘Messiah’ in “Christianity Today”:

Maestro John Nelson left Shanghai shortly after directing Handel’s Messiah in 2006. Most of the audience members had loved it, Nelson said, although neither the English words nor a translation had been in their programs. “The force of the text must have come through,” Nelson said. During the Hallelujah Chorus, “the audience rose to its feet and stomped and clapped and even screamed.

“The government officials that were there sitting with the [Shanghai opera] music director did not stand up,” Nelson said. While driving Nelson to the airport, the music director told him of an even more surprising response to the performance: “My wife was sitting next to me and said, ‘I think I saw God when I was listening to this music.’”

Amid post-Olympics shifts in China’s attitude toward the West, the government decided that sacred music should disappear. “Quietly and without publicity, the Chinese authorities have let it be known that Western religious music should no longer be performed in concert halls. It’s an unexpected decision, and one for which there is no obvious explanation or trigger,” Catherine Sampson wrote in The Guardian. Even things that merely seem like Western sacred music — including Carl Orff’s decidedly unsacred Carmina Burana — have been stopped.

The ban may not last long, but it highlights the dual ambassadorship of religious art. Is an audience thoroughly engaged in Messiah a challenge to worldly authority? Is it worship? A threat to a secular Christmas? Part of a secular Christmas?

It may well be all of the above. Messiah is one of the greatest examples of Western music; it is also one of the greatest expressions of the gospel (the libretto is pulled directly from Scripture).

The article goes on to tell about Mr. Nelson’s organization, Soli Deo Gloria, that commissions NEW classical compositions that are explicitly about Christ. Some of them, he says, may stand the test of time.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Brigitte Washeim

    God has ways to come through the backdoor, when the frontdoor is locked!

  • LAJ

    Wow! I just sang Messiah early December. We had people stand up for the Hallelujah Chorus, of course, how amazing that in China they were so demonstrative. Handel said that after he wrote the Hallelujah Chorus, he wept and felt it had come directly from God.

  • Pingback: In Light of the Gospel » Blog Archive » Is Handel’s Messiah a Threat to the Kingdoms of this World?

  • http://www.pcahistory.org Wayne Sparkman

    This story is an excellent illustration of the truth of Psalm 149:6-7, demonstrating how the worship of the Lord is one of the greatest spiritual weapons in the hands of Christ’s Church.


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