This Day in History: September 14


Portrait by James Hudson

A portrait by James Hudson of George Friedrich Handel, with the score for the Messiah in front of him.

Welcome back to This Day in History! It was on September 14, in 1741, that George Friedrich Handel finished writing his famous and well-beloved Messiah.

Interestingly, Handel wrote the Messiah at a low point in his life. He was not having much success as a composer, and in fact was in danger of going to debtor’s prison. It was at this point that he was approached by a friend, Charles Jennens, who asked him to write the Messiah.

Handel worked zealously on the Messiah non-stop for twenty-four days, according to some reports barely stopping even to eat. After finishing the Hallelujah Chorus, he said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.”

The Messiah became Handel’s best known work, and certainly helped him out of financial difficulty. It meant much more than that to Handel, however, and he said of the listeners of it, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wish to make them better.”

Fun Fact You (Probably) Didn’t Know: According to tradition, when King George II attended a concert of the Messiah he stood up at the Hallelujah Chorus, and everyone else then stood as well, since the king was standing. This became a tradition, and it is why audiences to this day stand for the Hallelujah Chorus.

Bonus Fact: Although it is now usually played at Christmas, the Messiah was originally written to be performed during the Lenten and Easter season.