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Algis Valiunas writes on Handel’s Messiah in the Weekly Standard:

But it is of course Messiah that remains Handel’s nonpareil work. Here the secular and the sacred are joined, as Handel constructs a monument to everlasting truth on a pedestal of familiar, worldly beauty. In Handel’s sound-world, biblical grandeur requires an admixture of joyous levity to portray fully the surpassing love of the God who suffered and died for human salvation. Some of the music is unmistakably churchly, based on the hymn rather than the dance or operatic aria: The bass recitatives and airs have all the majesty of prophetic utterance whose solemnity is amplified as only music can do. But the melody of the alto air He was despised could almost be set to a lament for lost love from Alcina or Rodelinda. Similarly, a chorus such as For unto us a child is born has the ebullient lightness of a pastoral dance from an Italian opera, though it will swell into hieratic magnificence. His yoke is easy is another brightly tripping chorus, which evokes happiness here, in this life, as all suffering is erased when one takes Christ into his soul.

I would also add, speaking of influences, that the famed Hallelujah Chorus is in fact a coronation anthem very much like those Handel wrote for the Hanovers.  Of course, the theological point – the crowning of Christ as King of Heaven – is more appropriate to Easter than Christmas, which is why I generally listen only to the first part of the oratorio at this time of year.

I got a Christmas card from an old high school girlfriend this year in which she asks if I still sing along to The Messiah.  This was something that I used to do with the mater and pater back in the day, listening to an old recording made by goodness-knows who now from some time in the 60’s.  They generally followed the score, while Self tried to pick it up by ear.  The results were what you might imagine, although as we were usually half in the bag anyway, it didn’t matter much.

 Good times.

Funny how such a random piece of trivia would stick, only to resurface some 26 years later.  The answer is that no, I don’t really do it any more.  Not enough time and not enough familial interest.  However, both the younger gels sing in their church choir now – perhaps in a few years I might reintroduce the custom when they’re more likely to take to it.

This week I’ve been making my way through the DVD’s of the old Beeb series The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

The Lord knows there were many terrible things about the 70’s, but one good thing to come out of that miserable decade was the really top-tier teevee historickal drama produced by the Beeb, Granada and other Brit organizations.  In addition to the said ‘Enery, I’m also thinking of such series as Elizabeth R and I, Claudius (I’m sure there are others that readily come to the minds of fellow Port-Swillers above a certain age).  They were all characterized by cheap-o sets, excellent writing and superb acting.

Too bad they don’t make ’em like that any more.

UPDATE:  Vic asks about whether Henry is properly portrayed as plump in this production.  Well here are a couple of pics –


   The actor’s name is Keith Michell.  He’s a big, imposing bear of a fellah to begin with, and seems to keep getting bigger and more imposing as the series goes on.  No chance of a thin Henry here.


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December 2009