Although many people associate the Hallelujah Chorus and Handel’s Messiah with the Christmas holiday season, in fact, Handel, who performed the work dozens of times, never once performed it in December. All of his performances were during this time of year, Lent.
The text of Messiah was assembled for Handel by a man named Charles Jennens, who chose passages from both the old and new testaments, and the Book of Common Prayer, which Handel then set as recitatives, arias and choruses. In a new book, the musicologist Michael Marissen contends that the oratorio’s most famous chorus expresses contempt for Judaism. It's called Tainted Glory in Handel’s Messiah: The Unsettling History of the World’s Most Beloved Choral Work. Tom Hall talks with him about the book.