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Handel's Messiah

Comfort for God's People

Author Calvin R. Stapert
Narrator James Adams
Runtime 5.5 Hrs. - Unabridged
Publisher christianaudio
Downloads ZIP M4B MP3
Release Date October 22, 2010
Availability: Unrestricted (available worldwide)
Handel's oratorio Messiah is a phenomenon with no parallel in music history. No other work of music has been so popular for so long. Yet familiarity can sometimes breed contempt — and also misunderstanding. This book by music expert Calvin Stapert will greatly increase understanding and appreciation of Handel's majestic Messiah, whether readers are old friends of this remarkable work or have only just discovered its magnificence.

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This audiobook also includes selections from Handel's Messiah. To purchase the entire album, please visit

Handel's oratorio Messiah is a phenomenon with no parallel in music history. No other work of music has been so popular for so long. Yet familiarity can sometimes breed contempt — and also misunderstanding.

This book by music expert Calvin Stapert will greatly increase understanding and appreciation of Handel's majestic Messiah, whether readers are old friends of this remarkable work or have only just discovered its magnificence.

Stapert provides fascinating historical background, tracing not only Messiah's unlikely inception but also its amazing reception throughout history. The bulk of the book offers scene-by-scene musical and theological commentary on the whole work, focusing on the way Handel's music beautifully interprets and illuminates the biblical text.

For anyone seeking to appreciate Handel's Messiah more, this informed yet accessible guide is the book to have and read.

Musical recordings courtesy of Naxos of America, Inc. (P) 2010 Naxos Rights International Ltd.

Customer Reviews

12 Reviews Add Review
First Half Excellent, Second Half of Questionable Usefulness
It was with great anticipation that I dove into an audio recording of Calvin R. Stapert’s Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People. Unabridged, this recording has a running time of 5.5 hours, making it a quick listen. Stapert first grounds listeners thoroughly in the background of European music that led to the composition of Messiah, Handel’s own life leading up to the composition of the work, and how it was influenced by opera. Newcomers to technical musical appreciation will also be equipped with the terminology to understand various musical flourishes and stylings, which are all clearly explained.

After the first half of the book provides listeners with a firm grounding for the setting Messiah was composed in, it then moves on to explain its importance, popularity, and various methods of performance throughout the years since its original composition in the 1700s. Some theological matters, controversies, the biography of the text compiler, and other fascinating details dig deep into understanding the details of Messiah.

The narration by James Adams is superb – almost too much so. His emphatic pronunciation of Italian names almost lost me several times – they do not sound anglicized at all, and therefore, were somewhat difficult for me to understand. In fact, this was a bit annoying from time to time. His lofty British accent lends a formal feel to the audio book.

Drawing from primary sources including private correspondence, newspaper editorials, letters to the editor, and much more, Stapert paints an intriguing portrait of the times during which Messiah was composed, as well as the ongoing influence of this work on other composers and the general public. Stapert is throughout, interesting, and obviously knows his stuff.

The second half of the recording suffers however from a difficulty stemming from the audio book format itself. Essentially a line-by-line recounting of the text of Messiah as well as the musical styles used with each line, Stapert goes into depth in certain scenes, analyzing the meaning of certain musical flourishes, pointing out intricacies, and explaining the choice and meaning of the developing story of Christ and the salvation He brought to the world.

Unfortunately there are only 3 – 4 actual Naxos audio recordings of excerpts from Messiah to go along with these detailed thoughts. At times the author will exhort readers to listen to this, or listen to that, but it proves impossible without access to the actual recording. I hope to buy a copy of Messiah for myself, but even then, I am uncertain as to how I could listen to both the analysis and the music at the same time. It might be preferable to have this title in print to refer to visually with the music in hand. I doubt that I could hold the level of detail shared in the audio book in mind for long enough to actually apply it to the music when listened to separately.

All in all, while I greatly enjoyed learning more about the history of the development of music in Europe, and of Handel’s work in particular, I feel that the usefulness of this recording is found mainly in the first portion of the recording, and less so in the second due to the difficulties stated above.

I received a digital download of this audio book from for the purposes of review. All opinions are genuine and my own.

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Review by / (Posted on 8/8/2011)
Everything you ever (or never) wanted to know
This audioook certainly gave me a much deeper understanding of Messiah than I ever even cared about. In depth info about the music itself, the history of it, the context of the times, the composer, and more. I truly learned and am thankful for the knowledge, but some of it was just beyond what I held great interest in. All in all, it was not wasted time, but I wish more music was interspersed.

I reviewed this audiobook under the christianaudio Reviewers Program.
Review by / (Posted on 1/15/2011)
Buy the book, not the audio
I have always enjoyed listening to the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. Unfortunately, the extent of my knowledge of Handel’s entire classic piece has been very limited. I can’t recall having ever listened to the entire work, much less having known anything about its background. I’ve enjoyed listening to Calvin Stapert’s book, Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People in which Stapert takes us through a brief biographical sketch of Handel’s history. Stapert also includes a history of the “oratorio” (a term that up until I read this book was completely unknown to me) style of music and how Handel introduced – or rather invented – the English oratorio. Stapert goes over each piece of Messiah touching on several theological points including the anticipation of the Messiah and the culmination of redemption in Christ.

In listening to this book, I learned quite a number of things. One was how the style of the oratorio differed from operas and what effect this had on the Messiah. I found it interesting that the oratorio style of music did not even exist in England before Handel “due to Puritan opposition during a critical time in opera’s development elsewhere” – interesting because we see similar oppositional mentalities to various musical types and genres in some Christian circles even today. Handel recognized the merit of music as art, but also wanted to do more than entertain. As Stapert puts it “It does not reject entertainment as the goal. It rejects it as the only goal.”

Perhaps the best part of the book was Stapert’s walking the reader through the story of redemption, progressing through Scripture’s recognition of a need of a Messiah, the anticipation of the Messiah’s coming, his arrival, his death and resurrection, and the promise of his return. The notes on how the musical styles and variations underscored the lyrics of each piece was also very interesting.

While the book itself was very interesting, the narrator (James Adams) of the audio book from Christianaudio made me feel like I was in some kind of music literature class taught by a professor who deemed himself just above the task. While Adams’ narration is perfectly pronounced, with dramatic pauses and inflections at just the right places, it holds none of the “Comfort” of Handel’s work, but felt rather cold and distant. I didn’t hear the literary voice of the author in the reading so much as the art museum dryness of the narrator’s own voice.

Although the audio version from Christianaudio contains a few selections from Handel’s Messiah, the selections are comparatively few. I found it much more helpful to find and listen to the entire work, pausing the audiobook after each section to listen to the piece just discussed and then proceed with the next. I would recommend purchasing the actual book along with a full album of Handel’s Messiah instead of sitting through the droning of Adams’ narration.

(Thanks to Christianaudio for providing a free review copy of the audio version of this book.)
Review by / (Posted on 1/13/2011)
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