Handel with care: Bob Johnson listens in

‘Just why do the nations so furiously rage together?’

Portrait of Handel, by Balthasar Denner (c1726–1728)

I love Handel’s Messiah – most of it. The rich sounds, the ebullient energy, the familiar soaring melodies, all contribute to a wonderful evening. The words are edifying too – mostly. Perhaps it’s the glimpse into how Christianity looked in 1741. But sometimes they grate, even bringing a catch to the throat. Just why do the nations so furiously rage together? And why do the people imagine a vain thing?

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