Christopher Hogwood comments:. It is a meditation rather than a drama of personalities, lyrical in method; the narration of the story is carried on by implication, and there is no dialogue. The sources are drawn mostly from the Old Testament. The only true scene of the oratorio is taken from the Gospel of Lukethe annunciation to the shepherds. Occasionally verses from different biblical sources are combined in one movement, but more often a coherent text section is set in different consecutive movements, such as the first " scene ", the annunciation of Christian salvationas a sequence of three movements, recitativearia and chorus.
When Handel composed Messiah in London, he was already a successful and experienced composer of Italian operas. He had started in to also compose sacred music on English texts, such as the Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate.
He set many oratorios on English libretti. In Messiah he used practically the same musical means as for those works, namely a structure based on chorus and solo singing. Only a few movements are a duet or a combination of solo and chorus. The solos are typically a combination of recitative and aria.
The arias are called Air or Song, some of them have da capo form, but rarely in a strict sense, repeating a first section after a sometimes contrasting middle section. Handel finds various ways to use the format freely, in order to convey the text. The movements marked "Recitative" Rec.
Recitatives marked "Accompagnato" Acc. Handel uses four voice parts in both solo and chorus, soprano Salto Atenor T and bass B. Only once is the chorus divided in an upper chorus and a lower chorus, it is SATB otherwise. The orchestra scoring is simple: oboesstrings and basso continuo of harpsichordvioloncelloviolone and bassoon.
Two trumpets and timpani highlight selected movements, such as the closing movements of Part II, Hallelujah. Handel uses a cantus firmus on long repeated notes especially to illustrate God's speech and majesty, such as "King of Kings" in the Hallelujah chorus.
The following table is organized by movement numbers. Not counting some short recitatives as separate movements, there are therefore 47 movements. To emphasise the movements in which the oboes ob and the rarely used trumpets tr and timpani ti play, the summary below does not mention the regular basso continuo and the strings in movements. Details on the development of keysdifferent tempo markings times within a movement are given in notes on the individual movements.
Movements originally in Italian It are indicated in the Source column, however the exact origin is supplied in the notes on the movement. Scene 1 is the longest scene of the oratorio and reflects the Passion, in Jennens' words "Christ's Passion; the scourging and the agony on the cross", in nine individual movements, Part II, including the longest one, the Air for alto " He was despised ".
Block observes that the emphasis on the Passion differs from modern western popular Christianity, which prefers to stress the nativity of the Messiah. The opening chorus "Behold the Lamb of God" begins like a French overture in G minora key of "tragic presentiment", according to Christopher Hogwood. After only three instrumental measures the voices proclaim the Testimony of John the BaptistJohnwhich recalls Isaiah After the initial rise, the melody falls in dotted rhythms, but rises on "that taketh away the sin of the world".
The melody shows similarity to the beginning of " He shall feed his flock ", but "sharpened" from major to minorfrom triplets to dotted rhythm, and by the octave leap in the beginning. Isaiah wrote in his Songs of the suffering servant in the fourth song about the Man of Sorrows : "He was despised, rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" Isaiah Isaiah states in his songs that "the Messiah will play a substitutionary sacrificial role on behalf of his people".
The vocal line begins with an ascending fourth on "he was" and adds another one on "despi-sed", ending as a sigh. The signal of a fourth has been observed by Part II Rudolf Steglich as a unifying motif of the oratorio. Soft sighing motifs of the violins, an echo of the singing, drop into these rests. Hogwood interprets the unaccompanied passages as emphasizing "Christ's abandonment". The dotted rhythm returns in instruments and voices in the chorus "Surely, He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows", the continuation of Isaiah's text, set in F minor.
The chorus continues with the remainder of Isaiah and ends on the words "the chastisement of our peace was upon him". In the same key the chorus continues with a fugue "And with His stripes we are healed". The theme begins with a sequence of five long notes, which Mozart quoted in the Kyrie -fugue of his Requiem. The characteristic ascending fourth opens the countersubject. The word "healed" is later stressed by both long melismas and long notes.
Still continuing Isaiah's text, "All we like sheep, have gone astray" is set as a fast chorus in F-major on a walking bass with irregular patterns and leaps. The voices utter twice together "All we like sheep", then two voice parts move simultaneously in different directions on "have gone astray", with the last syllable extended to eleven notes. The next bit of the text "we have turned" is illustrated by fast coloraturas, lacking direction. In a dramatic sudden adagio, full of chromatic tension, the movement ends on "and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all".
His lost sheep meander hopelessly through a wealth of intricate semi quavers, stumbling over decorous roulades and falling into mazes of counterpoint that prove inextricable. A less dramatic composer than Handel would scarcely have rendered his solemn English text with such defiance, for the discrepancy between the self-accusing words and his vivacious music is patent to any listener emancipated from the lethargy of custom.
The thought "All they that see Him, laugh Him to scorn" is taken from Psalm 22 Psalmsthe Part II from which Jesus quoted on the cross, according to Mark and Matthew. The text is set as a short tenor accompagnato, again based on a pattern of dotted notes in the instruments.
The strings through in violent figures after "laugh Him to scorn" and "shoot out their lips", similar to an outburst of laughter. The key of B-flat minor is termed "remote and barbarous" by Hogwood. What they say is given to the chorus as a strict fugue in C minor : "He trusted in God, that He would deliver Him, if He delight in Him.
The tenor returns to sing a verse of the Psalm "Thy rebuke hath broken His heart" Psalms Aching chromatic chords picture the broken heart. The accompagnato begins in A-flat majorshifts without stability and ends in B major. The tenor voice, going to report death and resurrection in scene 2, is comparable to the Evangelist in the Passions of Bach.
The tenor arioso "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow" Lamentations is based on text from the Book of Lamentations which is frequently associated with Good Fridayboth Jesus and his mother Maryalthough it originally lamented the destruction of Jerusalem.
In the short movement in E minorthe accompaniment pauses rather regularly on the first and third beat of a measure. Scene 2 covers death and resurrection in two tenor solo movements. In a restrained way, the death of the Messiah is told in another tenor accompagnato, as foretold by Isaiah, "He was cut off out of the land of the living" Isaiah Long chords begin in B minor and end in E major.
His resurrection is again told by the tenor in an Air according to Psalm 16"But Thou didst not leave his soul in hell" Psalms Scene 3 refers in a chorus to the ascension. Since the text has questions "Who is the King of Glory? Scene 4 covers the Messiah's position in heaven, following the teaching from the Epistle to the Hebrews in two verses, Hebrews —6.
In a short recitative the tenor renders the first verse, quoting Hebrews Hebrews"Unto which of the angels said he at any time", about the Messiah as the begotten Son of God. Scene 5 alludes to Pentecost and Part II beginning of preaching the Gospel. Pentecost is referred to rather indirectly, without naming the Holy Spirit. Originally written for bass, Handel rewrote the Air in London in for the castrato Gaetano Guadagni. The thoughts are continued in an earlier verse from the same psalm Psalms as a chorus in B-flat major.
Two alto voices begin and are joined by the choir, stressing "good tidings", "break forth into joy" and culminating on a cantus firmus of one repeated note: "Thy God reigneth! Based on a number of Bible references, a tenor arioso describes the preachers further: "Their sound is gone out into all lands" RomansPsalms In another Handel's version so called version Bwhich is commonly preferred by performers now, the same text is set to new music and scored for chorus.
Scene 6 shows the difficulties and rejection of the preaching, based on four consecutive verses from Psalm 2Psalms —4. It is the first text in the oratorio actually referring to the Messiah, the "anointed one" verse 2.
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