Why does an oratorio written in 18th-century England by a German composer still resonate so strongly to so many in this day and age? “Behold – I tell you a mystery…”
Why has “Hallelujah” struck a chord with people of all walks of life, whether it is Handel’s or Leonard Cohen’s? From an Inuit community in Alaska and a congregation in Kuwait singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, to the hundreds of cover versions and arrangements of Cohen’s song.
And why does Handel’s Messiah touch people of different backgrounds, faiths, and cultures? The universality of this work, beyond its remarkable, moving, and uplifting music, lies, I think, in its message of “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” and its themes of enlightenment and understanding, hope and faith, humanity and good will, sacrifice and charity – these are important values that we esteem and strive for, even in our secular world. And the triumph of these over suffering, injustice, selfishness, or man’s inhumanity to man – these are to be found in Handel’s masterpiece. I believe that Messiah, like other great musical compositions, opens in us a spirituality, whether one belongs to a faith or not. It also offers solace – an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. And as such it has become an annual ritual for many.
Messiah joins the ranks of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, or school and church nativity plays, or a holiday dinner with family and friends – all are rituals that are part of the private and public recognition of this special time of year – a time for giving and of thanksgiving. And a little ritual and mystery in our lives isn’t such a bad thing.
But something else – and perhaps therein lies the mystery – something about this work and its music and its message has touched more than the English-speaking world with its power and essence, allowing it to remain meaningful and vital to this day. And to that I say Hallelujah!
Join Ivars Taurins and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir for Handel Messiah from December 13–16, 2017 at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre.