CHAPTERS 15-16 George Frideric Handel and the Oratorio

George Frideric Handel and the
• Oratorio – large-scale composition for
chorus, vocal soloists, and orchestra
• Usually set to narrative text
• Different than opera – no acting, scenery,
• Most biblical stories, but not intended for
religious services
• First appeared early 17th century
– Musical dramatizations of biblical stories
• 1685-1759
• Master of Italian opera and English
• Born in Halle, Germany 1 month before
• Not from musical family
• By age 9: showed talent, father allowed
him to start studying
• Age 11: composing, giving organ lessons
• 12: father died
• 17: Halle University, studied Law, left a
year later
• Became harpsichordist for opera house in
• 20: one of his operas produced
• Handel: man of temperament, conviction
– Argument with friend about who would play
the harpsichord led to duel; botton on
Handel’s coat saved him
• 21: went to Italy, stayed 3 years, wrote
• 1710: returned to Germany
– Well-paid position as music director for
Elector Georg Ludwig of Hanover
– Asked for leave to London for opera
performance, performance was
successful, asked to go again, told he
could as long as he stayed for a good
amount of time
• Stayed 1712-1759
• Became England’s most important
Handel and the Italian Opera
• The Italian Opera was mainly exotic
– Middle classes thought the mythological
operas were absurd!
• Aristocrats of London supplied the money
for these productions.
– (The Royal Academy of Music; until it folded
after 9 seasons.)
Handel has a breakdown…
• Upon closure of the Opera companies,
Handel has a nervous breakdown.
– Handel goes to Germany to recuperate.
– Even the King of Prussia states, “ Handel’s
great days are over, his inspiration is
exhausted, and his taste behind in fashion.”
He’s not finished yet!
• Returns to London, and starts
writing Oratorios EXTENSIVELY.
• He charges high prices for these
“low-cost” productions.
• Even attracts a middle class
The Jealousy of the People…
– All of his Oratorios were HIGHLY
• “Messiah” -1741 (most famous)
– Aristocrats and wealthy hate the
notion that a foreign musician is
attaining power and prominence.
– They plot Handel’s demise.
• Rip down concert posters, hoodlums
assult concert-goers, aristocrats give
private concerts and parties on
Oratorio nights.
Late in Life
• 1753- Still conducting and giving
concerts (He was almost completely
• During his lifetime a statue was erected
of him in the public park.
• Dies in 1759 – About 3,000 people attend
Handel’s Music
Wrote a TON of music
– suites, organ
concertos, concerti
grossi – but the core
of his output were
Italian Operas and
English Oratorios.
Ironically – All of his 39
Italian Operas were
written in London!
Handel’s Oratorios
• Most deal with stories from the Bibles Old
• NOT Church music. For paying
• To be performed in public theaters.
• Most had Plots & Characters (even though
it was not a play)
• Exception is the Messiah. Dealt with a
New Testament subject without a plot.
• The “Messiah” Oratorio was composed in
only 24 days, but lasts 2.5 hours.
• Was said by journalists to be “the finest
Composition of Musick that ever was
“Messiah” (cont.)
• Performed yearly as a benefit for
London Orphanages.
• It was said that Messiah, “ fed the
hungry, clothed the naked, fostered
the orphan.”
Messiah – Is in three parts.
• Part 1) The prophecy of the Messiah’s
coming and announcement of Christ’s
• Part 2) The sacrifice of Jesus and
mankind's utter defeat when trying to
oppose the Almighty.
• Part 3) Expresses faith for eternal life from
Christ, the redeemer.
French Overture and Allegro
• Messiah opens in a minor key.
• Begins like a fugue in which the subject is
passed from higher instruments to lower
• The tempo: Grave & Allegro Moderato
– Tr. 46 and 47
Comfort Ye, My People
• Between an Aria (soloistic) and Recitative
• Based on verses from Isaiah:
announcement that Jerusalem's people
will no longer be exiled.
• A heavenly voices commands them to
return from the desert.
• Pg. 186 tr. 48
Ev’ry Valley Shall Be Exalted
• Describes the
creation of a desert
highway: God leads
Jerusalem's people
back to their
• Pg. 187 Tr. 50
For unto Us a Child Is Born
• Most JOYful music!
• Celebrates the birth
of a royal child
whose name
predicts salvation.
• Pg. 188 tr. 51
Hallelujah Chorus
• Possibly worlds most
famous Choral piece.
• Sudden Changes in
texture happen
• Handel takes this text
from the Revelation of
St. John which
celebrates God as the
Almighty and everlasting
Wrap – up
• Tomorrow will be a review day!
• We will begin class by reviewing our music
examples, then move onto multiple choice