By Elizabeth Doyle
Handel’s Messiah – In honor of Christmas, here are three musical tributes to the many ways people celebrate and feel about this Christian holiday. The first is Handel’s Messiah. A sweeping oratorio, written in the 1700s, it opens with whispering instrumentation, representing rumors that a Messiah is on the way. It builds into a story about the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. And ends with the famous Hallelujah Chorus, proclaiming the holiness of what has just transpired. This oratorio has only gained in popularity since Handel (A German who enjoyed living in England) wrote in the early 1700s. People still love it, and it seems to remind them of the power of the divine, in sort of an awe-struck-at-the-magnificence-of-it-all kind of a way. Here is the ending climax of The Messiah, being sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (It’s traditional for the audience to stand in reverence as soon as they hear the first note of this piece.) Click here.
What Can I Give? — But there’s also a more intimate side to Christmas. While choral music often expresses feelings of power and reverence, Gospel is often more about the feelings and struggles of having a relationship with Christ. Where songs like Hallelujah Chorus of the Messiah sparkle and stretch to the heavens, songs like this one reach within, instead. In this Christmas song, Mahalia Jackson ponders what she can give to Jesus, on this the day of his birth, and reaches the dramatic conclusion, “I’ll give my love – Lord, it’s all that I have.” For many people, Christmas is a time for very personal reflection, in addition to reverence and praise. (And Mahalia Jackson is the greatest gospel singer in the world, ever – so I played with the idea of using someone different, since I’ve featured her before, but couldn’t bring myself to it!) Here’s Mahalia:
Christmas Revels– And for some people, Christmas is really just a winter celebration … like the
ones people have been celebrating at the Solstice for thousands of years. When I was a kid, we always went to the Christmas Revels at Christmastime. It’s a play, and it’s a Celtic celebration of the Solstice, which weaves together dancing, songs and mythology from Ireland and parts of Britain. At the end of Act 1 in the play, the cast sings this song, Lord of the Dance, which brings the story of Christmas into the celebration for just one moment. This is the singer who sang it during the play when I was growing up. I can’t find a clip of him singing it live on stage anymore (They have new singers now!), but this is the man I always saw on stage, so for sentimental reasons, I went with this clip, even though it doesn’t show him performing. It does give you a feel! : Click here.
Top photo: “Anbetung der Hirten”, Giorgione (1477-1510) / public domain world wide / Wikimedia Commons
Second photo: Carl Van Vechten, 1962 / public domain/ Wikimedia Commons / Mahalia Jackson
Third photo: © Iandreed11 / Dreamstime.com / Christmas lights