Handel’s “Messiah” for Children

By | April 4, 2021
Title of Messiah in Handel's own handwriting

A Blessed Easter to all of you! Children love picture books. Now it is possible to introduce children to Handel’s Messiah, one of sacred music’s most beloved and frequently performed works. In so doing, you will not only introduce them to a great piece of music, but also teach them the Biblical story of salvation (see my previous blogs Handel’s Messiah – Biblical, Christological, and Eschatological and Text Study – Handel’s Messiah).

Although performed frequently at Christmas, Messiah is actually about the Resurrection: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day and the Resurrection of the Dead on the Last Day. The sixth of Handel’s oratorios, it is composed in three parts. Part 1 begins with the prophecies of Isaiah and concludes with their fulfillment with the birth and ministry of Jesus. Part 2 presents Biblical passages from services for Holy Week that help us reflect upon the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. It concludes with the infamous “Hallelujah Chorus” celebrating His resurrection from the dead. Part 3 consists of Biblical texts taken entirely from the Anglican Burial Service. As such, it celebrates the “resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting” that is promised to those who are in Christ Jesus.

As such, Messiah is really a work for Easter. In fact, composed in 1741 in only a few weeks, its first performance was actually in 1742 during the Easter season in Dublin, Ireland, the proceeds benefitting three charities. Easter that year was on March 25 and Messiah was first performed a few weeks later on April 13.

Below are some picture books that make the libretto (lyrics) of Handel’s Messiah accessible to children. They are also wonderful devotional tools for adults. Also featured are a couple of options for introducing beginning to intermediate keyboard players to Messiah as well as a Messiah coloring book, believe it or not. Click on the images for more information and to view availability.

Messiah: The Wordbook for the Oratorio presents the complete libretto as found in an original wordbook from 1743. Barry Moser provides sixteen colorful full-page paintings full of symbolism and imagery depicting various aspects of the story. The pre-eminent conductor and scholar Christopher Hogwood provides a fascinating and insightful five page Introduction. At the conclusion of the book Barry Moser provides insights into the symbolism found in his paintings. It is available and can be “borrowed” and read online for free at www.openlibrary.org with a free online membership.

Messiah: The Wordbook for the Oratorio, Words Selected from the Holy Scriptures by Chalres ...

Messiah: The Greatest Sermon Ever Sung is a collaboration between Lutheran pastor Reverend Anthony Pittenger and illustrator Jonathan Mayer (www.scapegoatstudio.com). Striking and dramatic images are combined with the libretto (in dark purple insets with gold lettering) and a running commentary by Rev. Pittenger. This is a very practical devotional book and includes suggested Bible Study outlines at the back for a Four-Session Study or a Seven-Session Study. A Facebook page for this book is at https://www.facebook.com/MessiahBook/.

Messiah-the Greatest Sermon Ever Sung: Tony Pittenger

An older book is Messiah: A Photographic Meditation on Handel’s Messiah by Miriam Foster and Keith McCormick. Published in 1978, it provides the Biblical text with photographs from 19 different photographers featuring sacred images, nature, and people. It also can be “borrowed” and read online for free at www.openlibrary.org.

Messiah: A Photographic Meditation on Handel's Messiah: Frost, Miriam, McCormick, Keith

Piano and organ teachers might consider introducing their budding keyboardists to a more recent publication Handel’s Messiah for the Beginning Pianist. In this book David Dutkanicz provides two-part arrangements of each movement of Messiah preceded by brief explanations of the movements.

Intermediate players might venture exploring a realized version of the actual Continuo (Keyboard) part. The orchestral reductions found in most Piano/Vocal scores are very difficult to play, but the continuo part for some movements is quite accessible to intermediate players. My preferred version is the Leonard Von Camp edition published by Roger Dean Publishing. It can be purchased as a book (click here) or in a downloadable digital format (click here). At a price of $50.00 it may be an investment for more serious students, but it would last a lifetime providing hours of enjoyment and musical reflection.

Last, but not least, children might enjoy the Handel’s Messiah Coloring Book. In this book Barbara Whiteman provides the Messiah lyrics with 17 illustrations by Taylor Leong that children will enjoy coloring. Intended to help keep children engaged who accompany their parents to a Messiah concert, it can also be enjoyed as a project at home or used to prepare children for attending a Messiah concert. There is a Facebook page for this book at https://www.facebook.com/handelsmessiahcoloringbook/.

Handel's Messiah Coloring Book

I hope that you find some of these resources useful. With these resources children can be introduced to Messiah at almost any age and not only be introduced to the wonder of Handel’s music, but also the wonder of the salvation story and the love and mercy of our God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

Soli Deo Gloria!

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