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 ChristianAudio.com for the purposes of review. All opinions are genuine and my own.
Reviewed at quiverfullfamily.com
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. http://christianaudio.com/handels-messiah-calvin-r-stapert?ref=lhdg308
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.)
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Accessible & Very Informative; I Appreciate Messiah Like Never Before
I came to Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin Stapert as a relative musical illiterate. I am always listening to music, and I have even begun to enjoy listening to good classical music. However, I knew nothing of the terms oratorio, madrigalism, recitative, the particulars of Baroque opera, or really much of anything about music. Much less did I know the setting out of which the famed Messiah was written. All that I knew was that I loved the Messiah and I was interested in learning more.
Calvin Stapert does an excellent job of writing a book that is accessible for a relative newcomer. Yet, I bought the book for my grandfather, who has been quite the opera aficionado for decades, and he loved it, finishing reading it in just a couple of days.
Stapert begins by setting the historical context in which Handel wrote Messiah. He gives a short introductory lesson on the state of music (oratorio in particular) at the time, then he weaves Handel’s biography into it, slowing down to talk about the particular causes and effects of Messiah. The last part of the book is a scene-by-scene discussion of the actual music. This last part of the book was especially valuable to me, as it pointed out what was musically going on in the piece. This helped me appreciate much of the intricacy and genius of the piece that I otherwise would have totally missed. Stapert does a masterful job, in my opinion, of steering well clear of superficiality in the discussion (He gets quite technical at times), but never is boring. My appreciation of Handel’s Messiah soared like I never imagined. I have listened to the complete oratorio five times since finishing the audiobook.
I was provided a review edition of the audiobook version of the book. For me, and many I suspect, this is an optimal format. This is a book that, while full of detail, was not complex in its sentence structure nor in its reasoning. It is a writing which is easily comprehensible in a one-pass read. Naxos was kind enough to intersperse recordings from their original 1751 version of Messiah. I do wish that there were more; it would have been especially effective to play an excerpt from each scene after the scene’s discussion. No matter, I ended up buying the 1751 version on my own and playing it after each discussion anyway. James Adams is the narrator; he was slightly annoying at times due to the flamboyant ways in which he pronounced non-English (particularly Italian) words. Nevertheless, he is very understandable, read at a good pace with fine enunciation, and was not too big a distraction to the audiobook listening experience.
Even if all you know of Handel’s Messiah is the Hallelujah chorus, I recommend you pick up the audiobook and give it a listen.
Only for committed fans
In Handel’s Messiah, Calvin R. Stapert presents Handel’s history and cultural context and explains the content of Messiah, a work most famous for the Hallelujah Chorus.
I approached this work as someone who was interested to know more about what was behind the Hallelujah Chorus but was not particularly a classical music enthusiast. While the book had some interesting facts, I had trouble getting through the excessive detail so skipped some segments. You would need to be quite interested in the topic to make it through the whole book.
I “read” the book in audiobook format. I was quite impressed by the audiobook production. The narration was interspersed with recordings of the musical pieces being discussed. To make the most of these it would be better to get the audiobook on CD rather than the lower audio quality. While other reviewers have complained about the narration, I liked it. I thought the narrator had just the right kind of British accent for a work on this topic.
Boring, haughty reading nearly impossible to listen to
This information about Oratorio and early Italian compositions will bore most to distraction. I find it interesting, but I can not stand the audio narrator, Calvin R. Stapert. This audio book performer is perhaps my least favorite I have ever heard. His slow, haughty English accent/delivery is more than I can take. Perhaps you will like him, but I doubt most Americans will be able to tolerate such a lifeless, uninterested delivery and somewhat snobby presentation.
I hope to not run into a Calvin R. Stapert's audio book again. However, the music of Handel is well done.
missed a great chance
I was hoping this book would have more spiritual content, since Handel himself was deeply moved by the subject matter while he wrote the Messiah. But this book is for people who are more interested in the life and times of Handel, and want to know about musical styles and culture of Handel's day. I am not. I wanted to be moved to worship, but was not.
Normally I like British accents, but this guy came across as stuffy and boring. He seemed bored with what he was reading. It took a beautiful piece of music and dissected it into dead lifelessness.
Great music, still not sure about Rest of the book
I had the opportunity to listen to this audio book thanks to Christianaudio.com .
When I was given the chance to listen to a book about Handel's Messiah I jumped at the chance. I love listening to this wonderful piece of music during both the Christmas and Easter Seasons.
Through out the book pieces of the work are played and are truly enjoyable.
The Rest of the book , for me , didn't quite hit the spot. It was an interesting book filled with the history behind the music and the reception when it was played. For myself, I think that I would have enjoyed the book alot better if I had read it instead of listened to it. I am not sure if it was the narrator or the subject matter. I would go to this link to hear a sample and make your own decision but I would highly recommend the book whether in audio or print.
Handel's Messiah by Calvin R. Stapert
This book takes Handel's theology, biography and musicalality, and combines the three to tell a wonderful historically accurate story to show the birth of this famous piece of music. Of particular interest, Stapert goes on to develop an investigation into whether Handel's Messiah was originally intended to be for the church, or the theatre.
The most important thing about reviewing this book, I think, is to bear in mind its primary audience. If you have no interest in history or music, I'm pretty certain this will bore you to tears. That said, if you have any glimmer of interest in either or both, I'd be surprised if you didn't love every minute of this book. The story is interesting, and if you are going to listen to Handel's Messiah at any point soon I'm sure this will serve you very well and enrich your experience.
There are times at which the sheer level of historical and musical knowledge that is being thrown at you becomes a bit overwhelming but providing you're ready for this, and aren't treating it as casual reading, I think you'll do very well.
For someone with enough motivation to want to apply this to their life I think that there are valuable lessons for Christians to learn here in terms of how a piece of artwork can be appealing to a secular culture and remain high quality while retaining the truth of the gospel, but again, if you're looking specifically for this, I don't think you'll get it here without some follow-up brainstorms.
In terms of the audio experience, this is up there as perhaps the best audiobook I've listened to. The narrator's voice is excellent (as well as being British), and you are treated to hearing the oratorio as well, highlighting this as a particularly good buy.
I got this audiobook for free from christianaudio.com. I'm not required to give a positive review.
Not as good as I anticipated
I was excited to receive this audio to review, as I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to Handel’s Messiah on CD for many years.
This had the potential to be a good listening experience as the subject matter is of interest to me. Unfortunately this has not been the case as the narrator made it really hard work. Although he is extremely clear, and its easy to understand what he is talking about, his manner came across as extremely pompous. His over-emphasis of German and Italian words, became really irritating in the end.
I did manage to extract some very interesting facts about Handel and his life story, but it was difficult. I didn’t enjoy the dissection of Messiah in Part 2, as I have already read through my CD notes many times, so this seemed very long winded to me.
I think that if you are new to this production you’d probably enjoy it a whole lot more.
Thanks to christianaudio.com Reviewer’s Program for this copy.
Well-spoken, easy listening
In regards to Handel's Messiah, by Calvin Stapert, it seems to be an impressive examination of the history of music and theology influencing one another in the beautiful collision of an experience of worship. Listening to the audiobook, I am immensely impressed by content provided that would not have been experienced via a traditional format.
The audiobook started with a beautiful concerto of Handel's Messiah, to allow the listener to fully understand what was being discussed in the text. Narrated by James Adams, this book takes on a life of its own. The intonations of the narrator were specific yet wide, subtle yet formative. His ability to read the text with appropriate inflection guides the listener into being captivated by the track. A most excellent piece of work, Adams took the concept of monotony out of the audiobook industry almost by this piece alone.
Read the score and more at infinitlove.com/blog.