Sunday, October 9, 2011

I know that my Redeemer liveth!

I know that my Redeemer liveth by Georg Friedrich Händel is among the most beautiful and deeply spiritual Christian songs ever written to the female voice. This aria from Messiah oratorio shines the marvellous and wonderful light of Christ upon us people in the same way as the alto aria Agnus Dei in the B-minor Mass of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's demanding coloratura soprano aria et incarnatus est in the C-minor Mass.

Each one of these three arias belongs to the greatest masterpieces of Christian music and each one has a different background in the life of the composer and different message about our Saviour Jesus Christ.

J.S. Bach and W.A. Mozart
J.S. Bach was already old and approaching death when he finalized the B-minor Mass, arguably the finest composition in the history of music. In Agnus Dei the aging composer is humbly and honestly praying and asking grace from the Lamb of God. There is nothing theatrical, nothing artificial in this alto aria - it is pure music and pure prayer of human heart kneeling in front of the Lord.

Mozart wanted to impress his father, Leopold, with whom he had such a difficult relationship. He had fallen in love with Constanze and probably composed the aria about Incarnation of the Word so that her singing it would win his father's favour. (It did not.) But all this is forgotten when Amadeus gets into the aria and the music takes him to such a world of beauty and brilliance and delicate Bethlehem night that probably there is nothing more beautiful in the world of music than this aria and its heavenly mysterious and bright long fa... ending with flute, oboe and bassoon.

In contrast to the harmonious piety of Agnus Dei and the delicate holy brilliance of the Christmas night in et incarnatus est Händel's soprano aria has a very powerful and paradoxical content. I think that because of this it is even more powerful than majestic The trumpets shall sound.

How it is that one of the most beautiful melodies ever composed is written on one of the ugliest, most horrific and most powerful words in the Bible? Words where the suffering Job faces the reality of death, loosing his skin and worms eating his flesh:

"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me."
Job 19:25-27

These words from the Book of Job caught Georg Friedrich Händel some twenty years before he composed Messiah.  Death had taken way too early his dearest sister Dorothy and his brother stood in the funeral with broken heart. Barely twenty year old and Dorothy was buried to the ground to be eaten by the worms, dust to dust.

At this saddest moment the priest read from the Bible those words from the Book of Job and Händel never forgot them.

There is a paradox, the utter destruction of the human body, its disintegration in the tomb - and yet, with these eyes I shall see God.

I know
We can immediately hear something about the singer of this aria from the two first words of this immortal aria.

An artist full of herself, out there to show how she knows to sing Baroque aria and how skilfully she can use her voice to interpret this most demanding music by one of the great masters ... well, that shows and the I know easily reveals human vanity and folly.

But when the singer knows what she is singing and her heart has been filled with faith in the Redeemer we can also here that her joining Händel and Job in majestic confessions of faith ... actually, it is so certain that I know. It comes with great clarity and the soprano singing the two notes beats any brass instrument, trumpet or other, in proclaiming the Christian faith in face of absurdity of resurrection.

Händel himself was so fond of this aria that he hoped it would be included in his funeral monument. And indeed, in Händel's  tomb in Westminster Abbey he is shown holding the score of I know my Redeemer liveth in his hand (the sculpture is as art - or lack of thereof - in no way comparable to his music).

Three songs - one Christ
At the end, Händel added the name of Christ to the Redeemer seen by the writer of the Book of Job already before He was born and came into flesh.

What a blessing we have in the music that interprets the Bible reaching our hearts so deep that the experience is unspeakably wonderful!

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