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Weihnachtskrippen Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) –
a major musical figure in the 1700s and today
by Martin Ederer Herberger’s displays at SS.
Columba-Brigid Church in Buffa- by Martin Ederer came after a series Messiah was
Nativity scenes have become a lo can attest, Christians all over the
venerable Christmas holiday world have brought their own As the Christmas season of failures amid first performed in
tradition in many parts of the unique talents, materials – some approaches, we hear a lot from
Christian world, and the German- humble but effective just the same the baroque musical repertoire. speculation that his Dublin in 1742 for a
speaking world is no exception. – and interpretations to their Krip- This was the music of composers
pen. who lived from the mid to late career was flagging charity concert, and
Most sources trace the tradition 1600s to the mid-1700s. Thanks to
to medieval Italy and St. Francis of Granted, many Krippen are the numerous jobs at noble courts and fears that was a success.
Assisi in 1223. According to most neither theologically nor histori- and at both Catholic and Protestant
accounts, St. Francis assembled cally accurate. The three kings city churches, choral and Debtor’s Prison lay Subsequent
the first Nativity Scene (presepio (incidentally their relics are in the instrumental music multiplied as
in Italian) in Greccio, a small town Cologne Cathedral) probably did the numbers of composers, in his future. performances in
northeast of Rome. As is still true came a good deal later than many predominantly Italian and German.
in many places in Italy even today, Nativity scenes would seem to in- Among the more notable names Based on a London met little
nativity scenes were live re-enact- dicate, and who knows if they real- were Arcangelo Corelli (1653-
ments with living humans and ani- ly had camels? 1713), Alessandro Scarlatti (1685- meditational text by enthusiasm. Händel
mals. 1757), Antonio Vivaldi (1678-
At St. Ann Church some of our 1741: he died in Vienna), Georg Charles Jennens, continued to tinker
The tradition spread…and talented people used to remedy Philipp Telemann (1681-1767, with
adapted. In many places statues that problem by throwing an old over 3000 compositions), and Messiah is divided with it and then set it
carved from wood, hewn from door flat over the back pews on the Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-
stone or made of ceramic began to side aisle and putting the kings and 1750: fathered 20 children). into three parts. The aside. It rekindled
appear. The Nativity became a the camels on it. Every Sunday and
major subject of painters. Some feast day leading closer to the One other German born the first deals with Old "The Chandos portrait of interest after its 1749
rulers began to collect Nativity Feast of Epiphany, they would same year as Bach was Georg T e s t a m e n t Georg Friedrich Händel" by revival. In 1750 the
sets and compete with other rulers move the door (with kings and Friedrich Händel. He is equally prophecies leading James Thornhill, c. 1720
for the most elaborate sets, com- camels) closer and closer to the revered as an English composer. tradition of annual
plete with landscapes, cityscapes, Nativity scene up front. By Epiph- There is obviously an interesting
and all kind of “extras” of people any, they had finally arrived. story here. Händel was born in up to the Incarnation performances began
and animals added. The royal Halle, Duchy of Magdeburg, the
court of Naples quickly became Be that as it may, part of the son of a barber/surgeon (yikes!) and and Nativity. This is the most as a benefit for the London
legendary for its elaborate baroque idea of nativity scenes is to serve the daughter of a Lutheran minister.
displays. as a reminder for all of us to see properly Christmas-appropriate. Foundling Hospital, and the rest is
the birth of Jesus in our own lives Händel had already become a
In time Nativity scenes multi- right here right now. In any case, major musical figure in a number The second part covers the Passion, history. Messiah has become a
plied in churches, in even the sim- good harmless popular piety is of German court and church
plest of homes, and in public best left undisturbed! positions by 1710. By that time he Death and Resurrection of Jesus standard work of the holiday choral
places. As any visitor to Fr. Roy had traveled in Italy and possessed
a truly cosmopolitan knowledge of and the beginnings of the apostolic repertoire the world over.
musical developments of his time.
As was also true of most of his mission. The third part presents the By the end of his career,
Baroque contemporaries, he was on
the forefront of new genres promise of eternal life, judgment Händel had not only revived an
developing at the time – from
operas and oratorios to sonatas and day, the conquest of sin and Jesus’ already strong English musical
concerti grossi. In fact, many of his
operas were composed with Italian reign. heritage, but he had also shaped
lyrics.
But far and away, Messiah is new British choral traditions. On a
Händel became court
Kapellmeister to Prince Georg best known for one short, simple, much more trivial note, a simple
Ludwig, the Elector of Hannover,
in 1710. In 1714 Georg Ludwig and very perfect chorus: The Händel tune composed mainly of
succeeded Queen Anne of England
as her closest Protestant relative, Halleujah Chorus. Although we descending and ascending scales
becoming the first King of Great
Britain after the legal union of often enough hear it around the was also used to create the carol Joy
England and Scotland into that new
political entity. Christmas holidays, it actually ends to the World. That’s an appropriate

When Georg Ludwig became the second part about the Passion wish for all of us this season.
King George I of Great Britain, he
took Händel with him to his new and Resurrection. Fröhliche Weihnachten to all!
job. In England Händel busied
himself composing operas and
oratorios as well as other anthems
and works for royal occasions. A
few examples include his 1749
Music for the Royal Fireworks,
which was the best part of the
event. The fireworks display was a
bust, but the music has lived on. In
1727, he composed Zadok the
Priest for George II’s coronation,
and it has remained a staple of
British coronation ceremonies ever
since. In 1727 Händel also became
a naturalized British subject.

Händel’s work that came to
dominate the English-speaking
world’s holiday season is his
massive oratorio, Messiah, which
he completed in 24 days in 1741. It
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