Christmas songs come in many forms, from traditional carols to modern pop music. But there is only one true masterpiece of the classical era that is dedicated exclusively to the life of Christ: George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. This masterpiece, the greatest choral work of the baroque period, has been a staple of both the Christmas and Easter seasons ever since its debut in the 18th century. It is easily the most popular concert piece of the holiday season, and is second only to The Nutcracker in terms of Christmas performances.
George Frederick Handel is considered by many to be England’s greatest composer. Although he was born in Germany and trained in Italy, most of his life was spent in the British Isles, and England now considers his music a home-grown export. In 1741, he composed his signature work, Messiah. Handel died in 1759 and was buried in Westminster Abbey with the trappings of a full state funeral. His tomb is crowned with a magnificent stone carving of the composer displaying his music.
Based on the Four Gospels, Revelations, and several books of the Old Testament, Messiah is an oratio which recounts the life of Jesus in three parts. The first deals with the Nativity, the second with Crucifixion and Ressurection, and the third with Prophecy. Performances are especially popular during Advent. The original score of Messiah, or at least the earliest known copy written in George Frederick Handel’s hand, is now in the possession of the British Library, and is periodically on display in its special collection.
Handel’s Tomb can be found in the famous Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey in the heart of London. The cathedral is open every day except Sunday from 9:30am-4:30pm, with late closing (7:00pm) on Wednsedays and early closing (2:30pm) on Saturdays. It is open for worship only on Sundays. Admission is L15.00. The British Library is located on the north side of London about two miles away from the River Thames. It is open to the public Mondays and Wednesdays through Fridays from 9:30am-6:00pm; Tuesdays from 9:30am-8:00pm; Saturdays 9:30am-5:00pm; and Sundays 11:00am-5:00pm. Access to the library’s Special Collections may be restricted at times. Admission is free. Web: www.westminster-abbey.org (official site of Westminster Abbey); www.bl.uk (official website of the British Library)