Handel’s Messiah (Calvin R. Stapert, 2010)

A guided tour of a masterpiece
Some works of art survive the test of time, touching hearts, minds and imaginations across both generations and cultures. One such work is Handel’s Messiah, which was performed for the first time in April 1742 when the composer was 57 years old. It has been performed countless times since, texts of Scripture set to music both stirring and adoring. Within ten years of composing the piece, health problems and deteriorating eyesight would effectively end Handel’s work as a composer. He died in 1759.

In Handel’s Messiah, Calvin College music professor (emeritus) Calvin Stapert introduces us to Handel, his times, his music and then walks us carefully through the famous oratorio. And when I say he does this for us, I mean non-musicians who love music and want to know more. “I simply wish,” Stapert says, “to supply some information, explanation, and interpretation that might enhance appreciation of Messiah.” He defines musical terms when he uses them—besides providing a glossary—and helps us know what to listen for in order to hear Handel’s work more fully.

Stapert suggests, and it is a good suggestion, that readers listen to Messiah as they read through the book. I suspect too few of us will do that (I doubt I will), and our lives will be poorer as a result. Good music should not just be on in the background as we drive or exercise or read or work. At times it needs to be the center of attention. To be too busy for good music is to be too busy.


Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin R. Stapert (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing; 2010) 152 pages + glossary, notes, indices.