Doubts, Handel, and Haydn

by Arthur W. Anderson

Sitting in the balcony of a large church, I seemed to be in heaven listening to a sublime rendition of Handel's Messiah. All of a sudden the craziest thought struck me: "What if this whole thing is a joke and no one is really out there?"

The text (75% of which was from the Old Testament), the score, the magnificent way it was presented by a massive choir, symphony orchestra, four top soloists, and an eminent organist — all under the direction of a master conductor — the whole of it was overwhelming. But what if the message it proposed to give was only a grand fabrication?

Music like this has to come through pipes, reeds, gut strings, delicate woods, ivory keys, metals, lights, costly instruments, paper with printed scores, and physical vocal chords. Trained performers arc needed. Interpreting the genius of Handel calls for the utmost from the right and left hemispheres of the brain of an excellent conductor. The performance was a superb scientific creation. I was enchanted for the time, as were we all, by the creation of novelty!

But was this it? There had to be something in the whole — beyond the summation of all the parts. There had to be a "music of the spheres" which was released to us through the "right" instrumentation. Within me arose a joyful correspondence to a universal harmony at the heart of things. The chorus "Hallelujah" put me on my feet, too.

Can I prove it — the joyful correspondence? No! But I feel as Joseph Haydn did when he wrote: "When I think of God, my heart is so filled with you that the notes fly off as from a spindle."