Welcome to the first in our new series “MASTERWORKS OF
SACRED MUSIC!” During his lifetime, Handel rewrote, added
to and omitted some his original movements based on the
available performing resources and the circumstances of each
performance. The oratorio itself was a paradox, by some
considered a sacred work performed (GASP!) in a theater and
by others essentially an opera set to sacred text. Our
performance today is a continuation of that history: a concert
performance of sacred text, performed in a sacred space.
Further, we have chosen the movements that best suit the
space, our musical forces, and our time constraints.
These rarely performed (at least in our region) portions of
MESSIAH tell the story of the death and resurrection of Christ
(Part II) and the response of the believer (Part III). With text
from both the Old and New Testaments, the work incorporates
dramatic recitatives, lyric and theatrical arias and stirring
The difficulty of singing the massive work stems largely from
the tendency of Baroque-era composers to write as if the voice
were another string instrument, with terribly long phrases that
require more air than most humans can sustain – followed by
another, and another! And while other instruments move
easily through low, middle, and high ranges, to accomplish this
the human voice requires great skill and versatility. Thus the
iconic scales and flourishes (known as roulades) that mark
choruses like Hallelujah, For Unto Us a Child is Born, and Lift
Up Your Heads, while thrilling to hear, require great skill and
consume enormous amounts of rehearsal time!

Both Handel and his contemporary J.S. Bach borrowed from
previously composed works and previous movements of their
oratorios. Handel perfected this practice as a unifying device,
giving the listener the impression that a segment may have
occurred before, or somehow sounds familiar. “Worthy Is the
Lamb” (the first half of the final chorus) is a mirror counterpart
to “Since by Man Came Death,” with similar rhythms and keys.
The two stanzas of “Since by Man Came Death” are in A minor
and D minor. The two stanzas of “Worthy Is the Lamb” are in D
major and A major.
The text “Blessing and honor, power, and glory,” is the beginning
of a fugue theme that includes repeated notes that symbolize
eternity, and also recall the repeated notes from “For the mouth
of the Lord hath spoken it” in the opening chorus of Part I.
At the ending of the final chorus, the words “forever and ever”
are repeated 16 times in the same rhythm as the setting of those
words in the “Hallelujah” chorus.
Orchestrally, the strings and winds carry the bulk of the work.
The eventual and rare appearance of trumpets and timpani bring
a dramatic climax. Handel scholar and conductor Christopher
Hogwood calls it “the final storming of heaven.”
We hope it’s a powerful and moving experience for you!

Dr. Patrick Coyle
Artistic Director, Holland Chorale