Monday, December 6, 2010

Handel the Exegete.

On Saturday my wife and I attended Handel's Messiah at Calvin College's (my wife's alma mater) new "Covenant Fine Arts Center." It was very well done, though of course out of my loyalty to Luther College, I have to say that it wasn't as good as the performance that I attended in college (bear in mind of course that Luther is a huge music school- we had 12 choirs and we continue to have a yearly PBS special).

After the performance, my wife made the insightful observation that Handel uses virtually no New Testament texts throughout most of the piece. Granted towards the end you get texts from 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 20, but mostly it's the OT prophets throughout.

I think this speaks to Handel's keen understanding of prophecy and commitment to biblical realism. The texts he strings together from the prophets aren't really inappropriately used either. Rather, he finds messianic texts that anticipate the coming of Christ and its revelation of absolute judgment and grace. He then strings together texts that anticipate the healing and offer of grace that Christ brings about. Then he moves on to texts of humiliation and crucifixion, and finally to vindication and the universal dominion.

This is all very brilliantly executed and shows that the pattern established in the OT of humiliation followed by vindication and glorification finds fulfillment in Jesus in the NT. From this we find that Handel is not only a great composer, but also a great exegete.


  1. Hans,

    I'm not sure if being able to read the libretto makes me insightful, but thanks anyway! :)

  2. Never been more disappointed in a book than with "The Gospel According to Handel." I thought it was going to be a paean to the christological richness of Jennens's libretto & the musical symbolism employed by the composer. Instead it was a tissue of higher criticism debunking the historic authorship claims & rectilinear messianic status of OT prophecies. I would say it has to be seen to be believed, but I would not advise seeing it.