Handel’s Messiah was composed by George Frideric Handel. He was considered an unpredictable composer and had an up-and-down career moving from one failure to another. In his time, bankruptcy was not an option and he was overcome with debt. As a result, his future included going to debtors prison.
As a last-ditch effort, he decided to perform a farewell concert and at age fifty-six retire a failure. But then his friend, Charles Jennens, delivered to him a libretto, a text used in an extended musical work, based on particular scriptures of the Bible. This is where everything changed.
Handel totally immersed himself into writing. He completed part one in only six days, part two in nine, and the third and final part in another six. He was feverishly overwhelmed and driven. A servant delivering a meal startled the composer, who cried out, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.”
He had just finished the Hallelujah chorus.
After only twenty-four days the astounding 260 pages of orchestration was complete. He had not left his house and was often found weeping with emotion. In consideration of the extent of the work, many have considered this one of the greatest musical exploits of history.
What makes this endeavor the work of a social entrepreneur?
Messiah premiered in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1742, for a charitable benefit that raised enough money to set free 142 men from debtor’s prison. Poverty and imprisonment from debt—the compelling personal incentive that began the work of this musical entrepreneur in the first place—resulted in the freedom of others with the same social fate.
So, the next time you are in an auditorium where Handel’s Messiah is presented and you stand up during the performance—as is the tradition—remember, too, that even after its premiere, subsequent performances did more to feed the hungry and transform the lives of the poverty stricken than any other musical achievement.
Social entrepreneurship at its symphonic best.
Sources: Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, Patrick Kavanaugh; www.philcooke.com