“Adversity is not only intended to refine and define us, but also intended to influence and change the lives of hundreds or even thousands of other people. Our adversity is not just for us, but also for others in our sphere of influence.”                                                                                                                   Robert Morgan

 August 1741 – London, England: It had been a difficult few years for 57-year-old music composer George Frideric Handel. Only God knew the trials he had been through. The once musical superstar had a stroke four years earlier, which left him partially paralyzed. The company he helped create to produce Italian operas, the Royal Academy of Music, had recently gone bankrupt. With each knock at his door, Handel feared he was headed to debtor’s prison.

He was at a low point when Charles Jennens, a patron of the arts and personal friend, sent him a libretto that he had written. He had compiled Biblical passages that told the story of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. When Handel read it, his heart was lifted. He would transform Jennens’ script into a musical composition.

Handel was born in Halle, Germany, in 1685, the same year as fellow German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Born just 100 miles apart, they never met. As a boy, Handel was interested in music, but his father was adamantly opposed. He wanted his son to be a lawyer. But Handel’s mother recognized his musical talent and encouraged him to play the harpsichord when his father was away.

Handel began studying music at age 8 and played the Halle Cathedral organ in church services at 12. By 15, he composed his own music, and produced his first opera three years later. Then it was off to Hamburg, Germany, where he played the violin at the Hamburg Opera House, followed by four years in Florence, Italy, writing Italian operas, his true love. In 1710, the 25-year-old prodigy moved to London, the largest city in Europe, and continued writing Italian operas.

On August 22, 1741, after receiving Jennens’ libretto, Handel barricaded himself in his house and began to feverishly compose. With great energy and emotion, he wrote. Eating and sleeping little, he worked day and night. When a friend concerned about Handel brought food, he found him in tears. “I think I did see all of heaven before me and the great God himself,” cried Handel. “I feel like God himself is guiding my hand.”

Handel finished the Messiah on September 14. He had completed the entire composition in 24 days, a Herculean achievement given its length and complexity. The two-and-a-half-hour, three-part classical piece blended majestic choruses with tender solos and moving orchestra pieces.

Handel chose not to premiere his musical in London. Opera, his bread and butter for 15 years, had been snubbed by the English operagoers for the past several years, bankrupting his production company. Instead, he took the piece to a small music hall in Dublin, Ireland. Handle had written the Messiah for Easter and debuted it on Easter weekend in April 1742.

The hall was packed and when the majestic Hallelujah Chorus was heard for the first time, it received a huge standing ovation. Dubliners loved it and Messiah was an instant success. Handel donated most of the proceeds to two hospitals.

The Messiah premiered in London the following year, with King George II in attendance. During the Hallelujah Chorus, the monarch rose to his feet and stood throughout the chorus. The audience followed suit, beginning a tradition that would continue.

For nearly a decade later, Handel kept the piece alive by performing it at the Foundling Hospital in London as part of an annual benefit concert. In his will, he gifted the musical score to the hospital, ensuring the benefit performances that began in 1749 would continue after his death in 1759.

In 1791, the Messiah first entered London’s Christmas season, and in 1818 Handel’s work became associated with Christmas in America when performed on Christmas Day in Boston. The piece’s Christmas popularity spread quickly.

Ludwig van Beethoven called George Frideric Handel “the greatest composer to ever live.” Handel composed more than 40 operas. He wrote cantatas, arias, keyboard music, orchestra concertos and four coronation hymns for King George, which have been played at every English coronation since 1730. But Handel is best remembered for his iconic Messiah and the majestic Hallelujah Chorus.

 Today, almost three centuries after Handel composed his masterpiece, Messiah remains one of the world’s most beloved classical music arrangements and is a traditional Christmas classic in churches and concert halls worldwide.