Show sheds light on Handel's hidden "Messiah" helper

Thu Nov 29, 2012 6:07pm EST
 

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Anyone dusting off their copy of George Frederic Handel's "Messiah" in the run-up to Christmas this year might spare a thought for the unsung hero of the piece.

Without Charles Jennens, experts argue that the 18th century oratorio would never have been created, robbing Western choral music of one of its greatest works.

Handel House Museum, located in the cozy London home where the German-born composer spent much of his life, is seeking to put the record straight about a man who, for many reasons, has been passed over by history.

"The Messiah would not have been written without him," said the museum's director Sarah Bardwell of Jennens, who lived from 1700 to 1773.

For landowner and patron of the arts Jennens, the words to the Messiah were an expression of deeply held Protestant beliefs, and he was determined that Handel, a composer he had long championed, set it to music.

The words, famously opening with "Comfort ye", are not Jennens' own but carefully selected verses from the Bible as well as a small number of psalms from the Book of Common Prayer.

"If you listen to the words it's all to do with your relationship with God as in the individual, there's none of the big theological questions," Bardwell told Reuters.

"Everyone can relate to the Messiah, even beyond Christianity on some level," she added. "I think that's why Jennens is so instrumental."   Continued...

 
Charles Jennens is seen in a 1740-49 oil painting by Thomas Hudson. Handel House Museum in London is staging an exhibition on librettist Charles Jennens, whose crucial role in the creation of Handel's famous choral work "Messiah" has been largely overlooked until now. REUTERS/Handel House Collections Trust/handout