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Local author explores the little known story of Handel's Messiah

Tiny Township author's latest novel paints picture of opposition to famous Christmas piece

Along with perhaps Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, it’s arguably the most famous piece of Christmas music.

But there’s a larger, untold story behind the rich Christmas tradition for many of attending performances or listening to George Frederick Handel’s masterpiece Messiah.

And that’s something local author Barrie Doyle explores in his latest book, Musick for the King, a historical novel.

“It is a fascinating story,” said Doyle, a journalist by profession, who now lives near Balm Beach in Tiny Township and works as an author and public relations/crisis management specialist.

Prior to the pandemic, Doyle often enjoyed attending performances at Roy Thomson Hall of the popular piece that features not only the famous Hallelujah Chorus, but also plenty of inspiring, splendid solo voices and soaring choirs, which all combine to mark Christmas in the minds of those who attend.

But while the music might be sublime, getting it to the concert stage proved quite challenging for Handel.

“I remember about 10 to 15 years ago, reading about the difficulties Handel had when he wrote the piece,” Doyle recalled, noting he decided a couple of years ago that this relatively unknown story would make for a fascinating read.

And so, he began the process of meticulously researching the story behind the story and started writing.

“There were two things that jumped out at me (including) how he overcame all kinds of issues and problems, some of his own making and some external," Doyle said.

Doyle said his work of fiction, which he notes is 85% true to what actually occurred, shows what can be overcome through perseverance.

“You can overcome even what seems like the worst,” Doyle said, noting it’s amazing to consider how Handel was able to create the full 2 ½-hour piece in just 24 days. “You're not finished even when you're at the bottom.”

Each aspect of the story—from the personal histories to the rampant opposition to the work and its performances as well as objections to the key soloist—is brought to life.

Doyle said the novel reads like a modern news story but is actually set in the mid-18th century. 

“People will enjoy it because he’s a quirky guy, but he’s also a funny guy,” Doyle said, pointing out many of the themes explored in the novel during Handel’s time are similar to today's such as celebrity sex scandals, political opposition to certain aspects of the creative process and the concept that foreigners might not be welcome.

“So it mirrors today’s society,” said Doyle, who playfully recalls an incident involving Handel and one of his lead singers with whom he had been arguing.

“She wouldn't sing the piece the way he wanted so he actually held her out the window until she agreed to do it his way. She said, ‘Handel, you are a very devil.’

“He said, ‘madam, I am not a very devil, I am Beelzebub himself.”

Prior to this novel, Doyle wrote the Oak Grove conspiracies trilogy that began with The Excalibur Parchment.

Musick for the King is available for purchase online through Doyle’s website and at Georgian Bay Books in Midland, the Reading Room in Penetanguishene and Manticore Books in Orillia. It is also available on Audible.


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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country‚Äôs most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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