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Tainted Glory in Handel’s Messiah: The Unsettling History of the World’s Most Beloved Choral Work Hardcover – April 15, 2014

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Tainted Glory in Handel’s Messiah: The Unsettling History of the World’s Most Beloved Choral Work + Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach's St. John Passion: With an Annotated Literal Translation of the Libretto
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“This is a highly significant piece of work.”—Robin A. Leaver, Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music
(Robin A. Leaver)

“When I read Michael Marissen’s essay of a few years back in which he first argued that there was anti-Judaism in some passages of the libretto of Handel’s Messiah, I was not fully persuaded. Tainted Glory in Handel’s Messiah has persuaded me. Marissen shows beyond a doubt that anti-Judaism was in the air in England at the time; so it’s not surprising that there would be anti-Judaism in some passages of Messiah’s libretto. But it is, as Marissen’s subtitle suggests, unsettling. We want Handel’s masterpiece to transcend its cultural context. It turns out that it does not, not entirely. It remains a masterpiece; but those who read Marissen’s book will find themselves listening with somewhat different ears.”—Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University
(Nicholas Wolterstorff)

“With superb mastery over the sources, both Christian and Jewish, Michael Marissen’s arresting argument  indicates that even the most beloved and apparently ecumenical art works might rest on deep religious bigotry.  Boldly rebutting his contenders, Marissen’s lucidly articulated humanistic message instructs us that exposing the vexing components of our cherished pantheons would contribute to further understanding of the complexity of culture and the moral responsibility of its inheritors.”—Ruth HaCohen, Artur Rubinstein Professor of Musicology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
(Ruth HaCohen)

“Not for Messiah haters; but for Messiah lovers who want to know what they’re singing every year, warts and all.”—David Van Biema, author of the forthcoming Speaking to God: A Cultural History of the Psalms
(David Van Biema)

“This work . . . shows painstakingly cited original research.”—Library Journal
(Library Journal)

About the Author

Michael Marissen is the Daniel Underhill Professor of Music at Swarthmore College. His publications include Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach’s St. John Passion and articles in Musical Quarterly, Harvard Theological Review, and the New York Times.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (April 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300194587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300194586
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,904 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By H. C. Erik Midelfort on April 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Marissen shows that The Messiah by Handel displays an antijudaism that goes well beyond merely claiming to be right (while Judaism was wrong). Indeed there are clear notes of schadenfreude over the destruction of Jerusalem (in 70 AD) which Handel, his librettist Jennens, and many of their contemporaries regarded as God's punishment of the Jews for failing to accept Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Marissen loves the music of Handel, but he insists that educated listeners of the 21st century need not also celebrate the ethically problematic posture of triumphalism. The author also shows how "typology" as an interpretive method worked in traditional Christianity, so the 2nd half of the book (containing an annotated libretto of the whole Messiah) clears up many otherwise puzzling passages. Marissen is steeped in the biblical criticism of the 17th and 18th centuries, and so he can speak with authority on these matters. This is an important book that deserves a wide readership.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By CER on May 19, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Book does an excellent analysis of the content of The Messiah, where it came from and what it's theological agenda was. It's great to have someone explain what these oratorios and other choral works of the period contain. The analysis of the text is lined up point by point with paraphrases of the theological intent and the original Biblical text to show the anti-Jewish Christian theological agenda of the subject content that Handel did such a beautiful job putting to music.

This is a good book for anyone who wants to see in practice the assumptions of Christian triumphalist theology over Judaism. It's not antisemitic theology as such but when utilized out of the Jewish historical context by modern Christian readers these New Testament texts utilized by Handel arrange a complete narrative of Jewish rejection and Christian replacement theology. This is one of a few texts that have recently focused on the music and artistic libel against Jews.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey B. Fowler on August 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As usual, Michael Marissen's book is convincing, thorough, and well written. It is a must read for any musician who performs Messiah. After reading this book, Handel/Jennen's somewhat baffling choice of texts and their orderings given the full context of the oratorio make sense, especially in regards to the placement of the Hallelujah Chorus. If you're one who likes scholarship that reveals uncomfortable truth which upsets the status quo, then you'll love this book. Is this new knowledge sufficient to derail Messiah as a vehicle for worship from its tracks? Get real. It's 2014. I doubt it.
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Tainted Glory in Handel’s Messiah: The Unsettling History of the World’s Most Beloved Choral Work
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