September 14, 2011 - Handel Emerges,

Messiah Complete— 1741

After working on it for 24 straight days—hardly ever coming out of his room, often forgetting to stop to eat, even—the composer George Frederick Handel emerged with 259 pages of music manuscript. He had just written the oratorio Messiah. It was first performed in Dublin (Ireland) the following April, and it premiered in London (England) a year after that. It was fairly well received right away but grew in popularity; it is now one of the best-known and most-performed choral works in all of Western music.

The words for Messiah were compiled from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer by Charles Jennens. Handel wrote the music to fit the words, which Jennens gave to him in July.

To hear parts of Messiah, use Wikimedia Commons. One of the most famous portions is “Hallelujah!” at the end of Part 1 (II). 

By the way, on this day in 1814, Francis Scott Key also wrote an important song: the national anthem of the U.S. Actually, he just wrote a poem about a battle he had witnessed that day and sleepless night. The poem's name was “Defense of Fort McHenry.” The poem was renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and set to the tune of a popular British song.

So Handel wrote the music but not the words of Messiah, and Key wrote the words but not the music of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Some people like to write music, some love writing poetry and lyrics, and of course some people write both words and music. Try your hand at creating a tune for a favorite poem (choose one that has strong rhythm and rhyme, not free verse!), and then try creating new words for a familiar tune. Which part of songwriting do you prefer?

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