Friday, December 10, 2010
Though his work is almost universally known within the English-speaking world, Charles Jennens is virtually unknown. He was a brilliant librettist — a writer of texts to be put to music by others. Born in the year 1700, Jennens inherited his father’s vast estate and wealth, attended Oxford University, and became a gentleman scholar. He published a controversial interpretation of William Shakespeare and lived a life of extravagance and eccentricity. That could have been the end of his story, but it was not.
His emergence as a brilliant librettist was driven by a sense of theological and spiritual urgency. Jennens was greatly concerned to confront the deism that was then spreading so quickly among the educated classes in England in the wake of the Enlightenment. Deism rejected the self-revelation of God in the Bible, the need of humanity for salvation, the deity of Christ, Christianity’s message of salvation, and any divine judgment to come. Deists rejected the very idea of a personal God who can be known, the intervention of God into human history, and all of the Bible’s claims of miracles, prophecies, and divine promises. the rest image
George Frideric Handel did agree to compose an oratorio based on Jennens’ great “Scripture collection.” He began composing on August 22, 1741, and completed the entire massive work in just twenty-four days of breathtaking intensity. Messiah was first performed in Dublin in 1742, and the work has been in continuous performance for over 250 years.