George Friedric Handel and The Messiah

John Butt

in The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199204540
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

George Friedric Handel and The Messiah


This article focuses on the libretto and musical setting of The Messiah. Handel and his librettist, Charles Jennens, provide a rounded and convincing impression of Jesus as Messiah through textual and musical allusion and resonance. Part of the potency of the libretto lies in its ‘blanks’, what it leaves unsaid (and unsung), thus inviting the listener to construct the necessary connections. The music provides ‘harmony’ in more than just its musical sense, melding Old Testament prophecy to the Christian perspective in a way that exceeds what the texts can do on their own. Scraps of biblical text, only sporadically continuous, are somehow rendered part of the one work, or rather the one experience that the listener witnesses in a single performance. Music thus functions as a form of rhetoric, rendering a message convincing through emphasis, repetition, elaboration, and a rich array of emotional constructs that can capture the listener's attention over the span of time delineated by the musical forms.

Keywords: Jesus; Charles Jennens; Handel; libretto; The Messiah

Article.  6388 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Christianity ; Music and Religion

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