Why Do I Hate Handel’s Messiah?

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First off:  yes, I know, I have committed the ultimate musical sacrilege – the stones are being gathered, and the pitchforks are being sharpened.  But I really and truly do not like Handel’s Messiah.  (And I’m actually not alone)

I recently took to the stage for my 7th performance of the work, and this really got me thinking as to why is it exactly I dislike it so very much.  Admittedly, it’s not a poorly written work, (anyone reading this could easily create a very lengthy list of works that are much more poorly written), and I do in fact appreciate some of the orchestration in it.  I just can’t stand it.  But why?

I could go on (and on, and on) about how Handel is one of my least favourite composers.  I’ve said for years you could give him a haiku and he’d manage to turn that into an hour long work, and I don’t mean that to be a compliment.  But that’s not really it, because there are works he’s composed that I quite like.  I could go into how choral works from the Baroque period have nearly always felt to me like they were written for organ or string orchestra and then text was set after the fact and given to singers, but some of my absolute favourite choral works are from the Baroque period so that’s not really it either.  I could go into having had a thoroughly unpleasant experience from 1st rehearsal to performance my first time in the choir, (my very first Messiah I was the 2nd trumpet player, and it was also my first time playing with an orchestra vs. a wind band and I really enjoyed myself, even if I was a tad bored given the trumpets don’t play much), but all subsequent experiences have been positive and pleasant, so with only 1/7 times providing painful memories that really isn’t it either.

Ultimately, I just find it boring.  I don’t mean to say it’s too long and my ADD kicks in, I mean I find every movement to be rather uninspired.  I am not moved by any moment anywhere in the work.  Yes, especially the Hallelujah chorus.  This struck me as a 16 year old while sitting in the orchestra listening in the first rehearsal with the choir and soloists.  I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Why is Handel’s Messiah such a big deal?  It’s kind of blah the whole time.”  I had been expecting hearing the singers to make everything come alive.  Instead, I got increased monotony.  As I grew older, my palette grew more sophisticated, and I always expected at some point in time I’d hear Messiah and have that “Eureka” moment, much like a formerly picky eater suddenly realizes foods they’ve been avoiding for years are actually very enjoyable to eat.  Perhaps, I just needed to sit in the audience and experience it vs. being a musician on stage.  Nope.  I was even more bored sitting in the audience.  At least on the stage I can get into a performance headspace and give it my all, enjoying the culmination of work in rehearsals and giving a good performance.  It’s just a very repetitive, uninspired work to me, that makes time drag on so slowly it feels like 3 days have passed instead of just 3 hours.

And while I know most classical music aficionados have finished gathering their stones and sharpening their pitchforks by now, I also know that I am not alone in this opinion.  I’ve stumbled across a lot of similar complaints online as well as commiserating with fellow like-minded performers, so at least it isn’t just me.

If you are one of the many who insist Handel’s Messiah is possibly the greatest piece of music ever written, (BLECH), well, I’m glad you have found something you enjoy this much.  Just don’t expect me to join you at a performance of it.