Behind the Music – I Know That My Redeemer Liveth

Reminding us of our living hope in the Risen Christ, soprano Emily Reed inspired us with a stirring rendition of G.F. Handel’s I Know That My Redeemer Liveth in this year’s Easter broadcast.

The Artist:

A soloist from Orange County, California, Emily graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in music from the Chapman University Conservatory of Music in 2014. In 2010, she was named a grand prize finalist for the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards.

The Song:

I Know That My Redeemer Liveth is from the third movement of Messiah, George Frideric Handel’s masterpiece, and most well-known work. Like the rest of its songs and choruses, the text is entirely based on Scripture, in this case on verses from Job 19:25-26 and 1 Corinthians 15:20.

Amazingly, the 260-page libretto of Messiah was written in an astonishingly short 24 days! While he was composing, it is reported that Handel ate next to nothing and that most of the meals delivered to the door of his room remained untouched. Caught off guard by a house servant checking on him at one point during composition, he emotionally declared to the surprised man, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” Incredibly, he had just finished writing a movement which would take its place in history as the Hallelujah Chorus.

Upon its premiere at a charity benefit concert on April 13, 1742, Messiah raised 400 pounds and was favorably received by its audience. This signaled a turn of fortune for the then 57-year-old composer, who had given what he considered his retirement performance almost exactly one year prior. Having been plagued by years of setbacks and mounting debt due in large part to the changing favor of the British monarchs, the German-born composer had oft found himself competing with the established composers of England and losing.

However, Messiah turned things around for Handel. A year after its premiere, he staged a performance of the work in London, and in spite of controversy from the Church of England, which objected to using the Bible in a secular performance environment, the King attended the show. As the first triumphant notes of the Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the King stood to his feet, followed by the entire audience, a tradition that lives on to this day.

As the composer’s fortunes began to increase in the years that followed, he personally conducted 30 performances of the oratorio and he continued to be acclaimed by up-and-coming composers, including Joseph Haydn.

Interestingly, while most devout Christian composers of the day chose to work only within the church writing hymns and directing choirs, this respected yet misunderstood man of God honored his Creator through the composition of opera, chamber, and orchestral music, often performed in secular arenas. His unwavering faith was expressed almost poetically a few days before he passed, as he stated his desire to die on Good Friday, “in the hopes of meeting his good God, his sweet Lord, and Savior, on the day of his Resurrection.”

Incredibly, he lived until the morning of Good Saturday, April 14, 1759, and his death came only eight days after his final performance, at which he conducted his masterpiece, Messiah. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, with over 3,000 in attendance at his funeral. A statue erected there shows him holding the manuscript for the solo that opens Part Three of Messiah, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.