He was a has-been, a fossil, a relic, an old fogey … but as a child, George Frideric Handel had accompanied his father to the court of Duke Johann Adolf. Idly wandering into the chapel, the boy found the organ and started improvising, causing Duke Adolf to exclaim, “Who is this remarkable child?”

This “remarkable child” soon began composing operas, first in Italy, then in London. By his 20s he was the talk of England and the best paid composer on earth. He opened the Royal Academy of Music. Londoners fought for seats at his every performance, and his fame soared around the world.

But the glory passed. Audiences dwindled. His music became outdated. The academy went bankrupt, and newer artists eclipsed the aging composer. One project after another failed, and Handel grew depressed. The stress brought on a case of palsy that crippled some of his fingers. “Handel’s great days are over,” wrote Frederick the Great, “his inspiration is exhausted.”

Yet his troubles also matured him, softening his sharp tongue. His temper mellowed, and his music became more heartfelt. One morning Handel received by post a script from Charles Jennens. It was a word-for-word collection of various biblical texts about Christ. The opening words from Isaiah 40 moved Handel: Comfort ye my people. …

On August 22, 1741 he shut the door of his London home and started composing music for the words. Twenty-three days later, the world had Messiah. “Whether I was in the body or out of the body when I wrote it, I know not,” Handel later said, trying to describe the experience. Messiah opened in London to enormous crowds on March 23, 1743. Handel led from his harpsichord, and King George II, who was present that night, surprised everyone by leaping to his feet during the Hallelujah Chorus. No one knows why. Some believe the king, being hard of hearing, thought it the national anthem. No matter—from that day audiences everywhere have stood in reverence during the stirring words: Hallelujah! For He shall reign forever and ever.

Then I heard what seemed to be a large crowd. … They were saying, “Praise the Lord! Our Lord God All-Powerful now rules as king. So we will be glad and happy and give him praise.” (Revelation 19:6,7a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 22.

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