George Frederick Handel
( Originally Published 1906 )
GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL was born at Halle, in Lower Saxony, Feb. 23, 1685, and, like many another composer, revealed his musical promise at a very early age, only to encounter parental opposition. His father intended him to be a lawyer but Nature had her way, and in spite of domestic antagonism triumphed. The Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels recognized his ability and overcame the father's determination. Handel began his studies with Zachau, organist of the Halle cathedral. After the death of his father, in 1697, he went to Ham-burg, and for a time played in the orchestra of the German opera. It was during his residence in that city that he wrote his first opera, Almira (1705). In the following year he went to Italy, where he remained several months under the patronage of the Grand Duke of Florence. During the next two years: he visited Venice, Rome, and Naples, and wrote several operas and minor oratorios. In 1709 he returned to Germany, and the Elector of Hanover, subsequently George I of England, offered him the position of Capellmeister, which he accepted upon the condition that he might visit England, having received many invitations from that country. The next year he arrived in London and brought out his opera of " Rinaldo," which proved a great success. At the end of six months he was obliged to return to his position in Hanover ; but his English success matte him impatient of .the dulness of the court. In 1712 he was in London again, little dreaming that the Elector would soon follow him as king. Incensed with him for leaving Hanover, the King at first refused to receive him; but some music which Handel composed for an aquatic fête in his honor brought about the royal reconciliation. In 1718 he accepted the position of chapel-master to the Duke of Chandos, for whom he wrote the famous Chandos Te Deum and Anthems, the serenata " Acis and Galatea," and " Esther," his first English oratorio. In 1720 he was engaged as director of Italian opera by the society of noblemen known as the Royal Academy of Music, and from that time until 1740 his career was entirely of an operatic character. Opera after opera came from his pen. Some were successful, others failed. At first composer, then director, he finally became impresario, only to find himself confronted with bitter rivalry, especially at the hands of Buononcini and Porpora. Cabals were instituted against him. Unable to contend with them alone, he formed a partnership with Heidegger, proprietor of the King's Theatre, in 1729. It was broken in 1734, and he took the management of Covent Garden. The Italian conspiracies against him broke out afresh. He failed in his undertaking, and became a bankrupt. In eight years he had lost $50,000 in Italian opera. Slanders of all sorts were circulated against him, and his works were no longer well received. In the midst of his adversity sickness- overtook him, ending with a partial stroke of paralysis. When sufficiently recovered, he went to the Continent, where he remained for a few months. On his return to London he brought out some new works, but they were not favorably received. A few friends who had remained faithful to him persuaded him to give a benefit concert, which was a great success. It inspired him with fresh courage ; but he did not again return to the operatic world. Thenceforward he devoted him-self to oratorio, in which he made his name famous for all time. He himself said : "Sacred music is best suited to a man descending in the vale of years." " Saul " and the colossal " Israel in Egypt," written in 1740, head the list of his wonderful oratorios. In 1741 he was invited to visit Ireland. He went there in November, and many of his works were produced during the winter and received with great enthusiasm. In April, 1742, his immortal "Messiah was brought out at Dublin. It was followed by " Samson," " Joseph," " Semele," " Belshazzar," and " Hercules," which were also successful ; but even in the midst of his oratorio work his rivals did not cease their conspiracies against him, and in 1744 he was once more a bankrupt, For over a year his pen was idle. In r 746 the "Occasional Oratorio" and " Judas Maccabæus appeared, and these were speedily followed by " Joshua," "Solomon," "Susanna," " Theodora," and " Jephtha." It was during the composition of the last-named work that he was attacked with the illness which finally proved fatal. He died April 14, r759, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. During the last few days of his life he was heard to express the wish that he "might breathe his last on Good Friday, in hopes of meeting his good God, his sweet Lord and Saviour, on the day of his resurrection." The wish was granted him ; for it was on Good Friday that he passed away, leaving behind him a name and fame that will be cherished so long as music retains its power over the human heart.
Israel in Egypt
"Israel in Egypt," the fifth of the nineteen oratorios which Handel composed in England, was written in 1738. The Exodus, which is now the second part, was written between the 1st and the 11th of October, and was superscribed, "Moses' Song, Exodus, Chap. xv., begun Oct. 1, 1738; " and at the close was written, " Fine, Oct. 11, 1738." It is evident from this that the work was at first written as a cantata, but that Handel on reflection decided that the plagues of Egypt would not only be a good subject, but would also prove a logical historical introduction to the second part. Four clays later he began the first part, and finished it on the 1st of November, — the composition of the whole of this colossal work thus occupying but twenty-seven days. It was first performed as "Israel in Egypt," April 4, 1739, at the King's Theatre, of which Handel was then manager. It was given the second time April 11, " with alterations and additions," the alterations having been made in order to admit of the introduction of songs. The third performance took place April 17, upon which occasion the " Funeral Anthem," which he had written for Queen Caroline, was used as a first part and entitled, "Lamentations of the Israelites for the Death of Joseph." During the lifetime of Handel the oratorio was only per-formed nine times, for in spite of its excellence, it was a failure. For many years after his death it was produced in mutilated form ; but in 1849 the Sacred Harmonic Society of London gave it as it was originally written and as we know it now, without the Funeral Anthem or any of the songs which had been introduced.
The text of the oratorio is supposed to have been written by Handel himself, though the words are taken literally from the Bible. Schoelcher says;
"The manuscript does not contain any of the names of the personages. Nevertheless, the hand-book, which includes the extracts from Solomon for the first parts, has in this part the names of personages (High Priest, Joseph, Israelite woman, Israelite man), as if the composer wished to throw it into a dramatic form. The words in their Biblical simplicity form a poem eminently dramatic.
The first part opens with the wail of the Israelites over the burdens imposed upon them by their Egyptian taskmasters, and then in rapid succession follow the plagues, the water of the Nile turned to blood, the reptiles swarming even into the king's chambers, the pestilence scourging man and beast, the insect-cloud heralding the locusts, the pelting hail and the fire running along the ground, the thick darkness, and the smiting of the first-born. Then come the passage of the Red Sea and the escape from bondage, closing the first part. The second part opens with the triumphant song of Moses and the Children of Israel rejoicing over the destruction of Pharaoh's host, and closes with the exultant strain of Miriam the prophetess, " Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously ; the Horse and his Rider hath He thrown into the Sea."
" Israel in Egypt " is essentially a choral oratorio. It comprises no less than twenty-eight massive double choruses, linked together by a few bars of recitative, with five arias and three duets interspersed among them. Unlike Handel's other oratorios, there is no overture or even prelude to the work. Six bars of recitative for tenor (" Now there arose a new King over Egypt which knew not Joseph") suffice to introduce it, and lead directly to the (first double chorus (" And the Children of Israel sighed " ), the theme of which is first given out by the altos of one choir with impressive pathos. The chorus works up to a climax of great force on the phrase, " And their Cry came up unto God," the two choruses developing with consummate power the two principal subjects, — first, the cry for relief, and second, the burden of oppression ; and closing with the phrase above mentioned, upon which they unite in simple but majestic harmony. Then follow eight more bars of recitative for tenor, and the long series of descriptive choruses begins, in which Han-del employs the imitative power of music in the boldest manner. The first is the plague of the water turned to blood, " They loathed to drink of the River," — a single chorus in fugue form, based upon a theme which is closely suggestive of the sickening sensations of the Egyptians, and increases in loathsomeness to the close, as the theme is variously treated. The next number is an aria for mezzo soprano voice (" Their Land brought forth Frogs"), the air itself serious and dignified, but the accompaniment imitative throughout of the hopping of these lively animals. It is followed by the plague of insects, whose afflictions are described by the double chorus. The tenors and basses in powerful unison declare, "He spake the Word," and the reply comes at once from the sopranos and altos, " And there came all Manner of Flies," set to a shrill, buzzing, whirring accompaniment, which in creases in volume and energy as the locusts appear, but bound together solidly with the phrase of the tenors and basses frequently repeated, and presenting a sonorous background to this fancy of the composer in insect imitation. From this remarkable chorus we pass to another still more remarkable, the familiar Hailstone Chorus (" He gave them Hail-stones for Rain "), which, like the former, is closely imitative. Before the two choirs begin, the orchestra prepares the way for the on-coming storm. Drop by drop, spattering, dashing, and at last crashing, comes the storm,— the gathering gloom rent with the lightning, the "fire that ran along upon the ground," and the music fairly quivering and crackling with the wrath of the elements. But the storm passes, the gloom deepens, and we are lost in that vague, uncertain combination of tones where voices and instruments seem to be groping about, comprised in the marvellously expressive chorus, " He sent a Thick Darkness over all the Land." From the op-pression of this choral gloom we emerge, only to encounter a chorus of savage, unrelenting retribution (" He smote all the First-born of Egypt "). Chorley admirably describes the motive of this great fugue : --
" It is fiercely Jewish. There is a touch of Judith, of Jael, of Deborah in it, — no quarter, no delay, no mercy for the enemies of the Most High ; He smote.' And when for variety's sake the scimitar-phrase is transferred from orchestra to voices, it is admirable to see how the same character of the falchion of hip-and-thigh warfare, of victory predominant—is sustained in the music till the last bar. If we have from Handel a scorn-chorus in the ` Messiah,' and here a disgust-chorus, referred to a little while since,' this is the execution, or revenge chorus,— the chorus of the unflinching, inflexible, commissioned Angels of the Sword."
After their savage mission is accomplished, we come to a chorus in pastoral style (" But as for His People, He led them forth like Sheep" ), slow, tender, serene, and lovely in its movement, and grateful to the ear both in its quiet opening and animated, happy close, after the terrors which have preceded it. The following chorus (" Egypt was glad "), usually omitted in performance, is a fugue, both strange and intricate, which it is claimed Handel appropriated from an Italian canzonet by Kerl. The next two numbers are really one. The two choruses intone the words, " He rebuked the Red Sea," in a majestic manner, accompanied by a few massive chords, and then pass to the glorious march of the Israelites, " He led them through the Deep," - a very elaborate and complicated number, but strong, forcible, and harmonious throughout, and held together by the stately opening theme with which the basses ascend. It is succeeded by an-other graphic chorus (" But the Waters overwhelmed their Enemies "), in which the roll and dash of the billows closing over Pharaoh's hosts are closely imitated by the instruments, and through which in the close is heard the victorious shout of the Israelites, "There was not one of them left." Two more short choruses, — the first, "And Israel saw that Great Work," which by many critics is not believed to be a pure Handel number, and its con tinuation, " And believed the Lord," written in church style, close this extraordinary chain of choral pictures.
The second part, "The Song of Moses," —which, it will be remembered, was written first, — opens with a brief but forcible orchestral prelude, leading directly to the declaration by the chorus, " Moses and the Children of Israel sang this Song," which, taken together with the instrumental prelude, serves as a stately introduction to the stupendous fugued chorus which follows (" I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the Horse and his Rider hath He thrown into the Sea"). It is followed by a duet for two sopranos (" The Lord is my Strength and my Song ") in the minor key, an intricate but melodious number, usually omitted. Once more the chorus resumes with a brief announcement, " He is my God," followed by a fugued movement in the old church style (" And I will exalt Him"). Next follows the great duet for two basses, "The Lord is a Man of War," — a piece of superb declamatory effect, full of vigor and stately assertion, The triumphant announcement in its closing measures, "His chosen Captains also are drowned in the Red Sea," is answered by a brief chorus, "The Depths have covered them," which is followed by four choruses of triumph,-" Thy Right Hand, O Lord," an elaborate and brilliant number ; " And in the Greatness of Thine Excellency," a brief but powerful bit; "Thou sendest forth Thy Wrath ; " and the single chorus, " And with the Blast of Thy Nostrils," in the last two of which Handel again returns to the imitative style with wonderful effect, especially in the declaration of the basses, "The Floods stood upright as an Heap, and the Depths were congealed." The only tenor aria in the oratorio follows these choruses, a bravura song, "The Enemy said, I will pursue," and this is followed by the only soprano aria, " Thou didst blow with the Wind." Two short double choruses (" Who is like unto Thee, O Lord," and " The Earth swallowed them ") lead to the duet for contralto and tenor, " Thou in Thy Mercy," which is in the minor, and very pathetic in character. It is followed by the massive and extremely difficult chorus, "The People shall hear and be afraid." Once more, after this majestic display, comes the solo voice, this time the contralto, in a simple, lovely song, "Thou shalt bring them in." A short double chorus (" The Lord shall reign for ever and ever"), a few bars of recitative referring to the escape of Israel, the choral outburst once more repeated, and then the solo voice declaring, "Miriam the prophetess took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances ; and Miriam answered them," lead to the final song of triumph, — that grand, jubilant, overpowering expression of victory which, beginning with the exultant strain of Miriam, " Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously," is amplified by voice upon voice in the great eight-part choir, and by instrument upon instrument, until it becomes a tempest of harmony, interwoven with the triumph of Miriam's cry and the exultation of the great host over the enemy's discomfiture, and closing with the combined power of voices and instruments in harmonious accord as they once more repeat Miriam's words, " The Horse and his Rider hath He thrown into the Sea."
The oratorio of " Saul " was written by Handel in 1738. He began it, says Schoelcher, on the 3d of July, and finished it on the 27th of September; thus occupying eighty-six days. This, how-ever, is evidently an error, as Rockstro says : "The score, written in a thick quarto volume, on paper quite different from that used for the operas, is dated at the beginning of the first chorus, July 23, 1738." The next date is August 28, at the end of the second part, and the last, at the end of the work, September 27, — which would give two months and four days as the time in which it was written. But even this period, short as it is, seems brief compared with that devoted to the composition of " Israel in Egypt," which Handel began four days after " Saul" was completed, and finished in twenty-seven days.
It has already been said, in the analysis of the last named-work, that in January, 1739, Handel took the King's Theatre in the Haymarket, his purpose being to give oratorios twice a week. " Saul" was the first of the series ; and in this connection the following advertisement, which Schoelcher reprints from the London "Daily Post" of Jan, 3, 1739, will be of interest ; —
" We hear that on Tuesday se'en night the King's Theatre will be opened with a new oratorio composed by Mr. Handel, called ° Saul.' The pit and boxes will be put together, the tickets delivered on Monday the 15th and Tuesday 36th (the day of performance), at half a guinea each. Gallery 5s. The gallery will be opened at 4 ; the pit and boxes at 5. To begin at 6."
The first performance took place as announced, and the second on the 23d, "with several new concertos on the organ," — which instrument also plays a conspicuous part in the oratorio itself, not only in amplifying the accompaniment, but also in solo work. In 1740 it was performed by the Academy of Ancient Music in London, and in 1742 in Dublin. Selections were also given from it in the great Handel Commemoration at Westminster Abbey in 1784, and in 1840 it was revived by the Sacred Harmonic Society of London, since which time it has occupied an important place in the oratorio repertory.
The story closely follows the Biblical narrative of the relations between David and Saul. The words have been attributed both to Jennens and Marell ; but the balance of evidence favors the former, — a poet who lived at Gopsall. The overture, marked " Symfonie " in the original manu-script, is the longest of all the Handel introductions. It is in four movements, the first an allegro, the second a largo (in which the organ is used as a solo instrument), the third an allegro, and the fourth a minuetto. It is an exceedingly graceful and delicate prelude, and makes a fitting introduction to the dramatic story which follows. The characters introduced are Saul, king of Israel; Jonathan, his son ; Abner, captain of the host; David; the apparition of Samuel; Doeg, a messenger; an Amalekite ; Abiathar, Merab, and Michal, daughters of Saul; the Witch of Endor; and the Israelites. The very dramatic character of the narrative admirably adapts it to its division into acts and scenes.
The first act is triumphant in its tone and expressive of the exultation of the Israelites at their victory over the Philistines. The second gives a story of the passions, — Saul's jealousy of David, the love of Michal, and the ardent friendship between David and Jonathan. The last act is sombre in its character, opening with the weird incantations of the Witch, and closing with David's grief over Saul and Jonathan.
The second act is laid in the palace, and opens with a powerfully descriptive chorus (" Envy, Eldest-born of Hell!'). In a noble song (" But sooner Jordan's Stream, I swear ") Jonathan assures David he will never injure him. In a colloquy between them, David is informed that Saul has be-stowed the hand of the haughty Merab on Adriel, and Jonathan pleads the cause of the lovely Michal. Saul approaches, and David retires. Saul inquires of Jonathan whether he has obeyed his commands, and in a simple, sweet, and flowing melody (" Sin not, O King, against the Youth ") he seems to over-come the wrath of the monarch, who dissembles and welcomes David, bidding him to repel the insults of the Philistines, and offering him his daughter Michal as a proof of his sincerity.
In the second scene Michal declares her love for David, and they join in a rapturous duet (" O fairest of ten thousand fair "), which is followed by a chorus in simple harmony (" is there a Man who all his Ways "). A long symphony follows, preparing the way for the attempt on David's life. After an agitated duet with Michal (" At Persecution I can laugh "), David makes his escape just as Doeg, the messenger, enters with instructions to bring David to the King's chamber. He is shown the image in David's bed, which he says will only enrage the King still more. Michal sings an exultant aria, "No, let the Guilty tremble," and even Merab, won over by David's qualities, pleads for him in a beautiful aria, " Author of peace." Another symphony intervenes, preluding the celebration of the feast of the new moon in the palace, to which David has been invited. Jonathan again interposes with an effort to save David's life, whereupon Saul, in a fresh outburst of indignation, hurls his javelin at his son, and the chorus bursts out in horror, Oh, fatal Consequence of Rage."
The third act opens with the intensely dramatic scene with the Witch of Endor, the interview being preluded by the powerful recitative, " Wretch that I am 1" The second scene is laid in the Witch's abode, where the incantation is practised that brings up the Apparition of Samuel. The whole scene is very dramatic, and the instrumentation powerful, although the effect, vigorous as it is, is made simply by oboes, bassoons, and strings, instead of by the brass instruments which other composers employ so vigorously in similar scenes. This scene closes with an elegy foreboding the coming tragedy. The third scene opens with the interview between David and the Amalekite who brings the tidings of the death of Saul and Jonathan. It is followed by that magnificent dirge, the " Dead March," whose simple yet solemn and majestic strains are familiar to every one. The trumpets and trombones with their sonorous pomp and the wailing oboes and clarinets make an instrumental pageant which is the very apotheosis of grief The effect of the march is all the more remarkable when it is considered that, in contradistinction to all other dirges, it is written in the major key. The chorus, " Mourn, Israel, mourn thy Beauty lost," and the three arias of lament sung by David, which follow, are all characterized by feelings of the deepest gloom. A short chorus (" Eagles were not so swift as- they ") follows, and then David gives voice to his lament over Jonathan in an aria of exquisite tenderness (" In sweetest Harmony they lived "), at the close of which he joins with the chorus in an obligato of sorrowful grandeur (" O fatal Day, how low the Mighty lie ! ") . In an - exultant strain Abner bids the " Men of Judah weep no more," and the animated martial chorus, " Gird on thy Sword, thou Man of Might," closes this great dramatic oratorio.
The oratorio of " Samson " was written in 1741, and begun immediately after the completion of " The Messiah," which was finished September 14 of that year. The last chorus was dated October 29 ; but in the following year Handel added to it " Let the bright Seraphim" and the chorus, " Let their celestial Concerts." The text was compiled by New-burgh Hamilton from Milton's Samson Agonistes," " Hymn on the Nativity," and " Lines on a Solemn Musick." The oratorio was first sung at Covent Garden, Feb. 18, 1743, the principal parts being assigned as follows : Samson, Mr. Beard ; Manoah, Mr. Savage ; Micah, Mrs. Cibber ; Delilah, Mrs. Clive. The aria, " Let the bright Seraphim," was sung by Signora Avolio, for whom it was written, and the trumpet obligato was played by Valentine Snow, a virtuoso of that period. The performance of " Samson " was thus announced in the London "Daily Advertiser " of Feb. 17, 1743;- " By subscription. At the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden, tomorrow, the 18th inst., will be performed a new oratorio, called Sampson. Tickets will be delivered to subscribers (on paying their subscription money) at Mr. Handel's house in Brooke Street, Han-over Square. Attendance will be given from nine o'clock in the morning till three in the afternoon. Pit and boxes to be put together, and no person to be admitted without tickets, which will be delivered that day at the office in Covent Garden Theatre at half a guinea each ; first gallery 5s. ; upper gallery, 3s. 6d."
The representation was greeted with extraordinary enthusiasm, and" Samson soon became so popular that many had to be turned away ; notwithstanding which, the ill-natured Horace Walpole could write, in a letter dated Feb. 24, 1743.
"Handel has set up an oratorio against the opera, and succeeds. He has hired all the goddesses from the farces, and the singers of roast beef from between the acts at both theatres, with a man with one note in his voice, and a girl without ever an one ; and so they sing and make brave hallelujahs, and the good company encore the recitative if it happens to have any cadence like what they call a tune."
The text, as we have said, was adapted from Milton by Hamilton, who says in his preface to the handbook, or libretto :
"That poem indeed was never divided by Milton into acts or scenes, nor designed for the stage, but given only as the plan of a tragedy with choruses, after the manner of the ancients. But as Mr. Handel had so happily introduced here oratorios, a musical drama, whose subject must be scriptural, and in which the solemnity of church music is agreeably united with the most pleasing airs of the stage, it would have been an irretrievable loss to have neglected the opportunity of that great master's doing justice to this work he having already added new life and spirit to some of the finest things in the English language, particularly that inimitable ode of Dryden's which no age not nation ever excelled."
The characters introduced are Samson; Micah, his friend ; Manoah, his father; Delilah, his wife Harapha, a giant of Gath ; Israelitish woman ; priests of Dagon ; virgins attendant upon Delilah ; Israelites, friends of Samson; Israelitish virgins; and Philistines. After a brilliant overture, closing, like that to "Saul," with a minuet movement, the scene opens before the prison in Gaza, with Samson blind and in chains. His opening recitative, setting forth his release from toil on account of the feast to Dagon, introduces a brilliant and effective chorus by the priests with trumpets (" Awake the Trumpet's lofty Sound "), after which a Philistine woman' in a bright, playful melody invites the men of Gaza to bring "The merry Pipe and pleasing String ;" where-upon the trumpet chorus is repeated. After the tenor aria (" Loud is the Thunder's awful Voice "), the chorus recurs again, showing Handel's evident partiality for it. The Philistine Woman has another solo (" Then free from Sorrow"), whereupon in a pathetic song (" Torments, alas ") Samson bewails his piteous condition. His friend Micah appears, and in the aria, " O Mirror of our fickle State," condoles with him. In answer to his question, " Which shall we first bewail, thy Bondage, or lost Sight?" Samson replies in a short, but exquisitely tender aria, " Total Eclipse : no Sun, no Moon, all dark amidst the Blaze of Noon," --- a song which brought tears to the eyes of the blind Handel him-self when he listened to it long afterwards. The next chorus (" 0 first-created Beam ") is of more of death, " where thou wrought'st wonders with an ass' jaw." His first number (" Honor and Arms scorn such a Foe ") is one of the most spirited and dashing bass solos ever written. Samson replies with the majestic aria, " My Strength is from the living God." The two solos reach their climax in the energetic duet between the giants, " Go, baffled Coward, go." Micah then suggests to Harapha that he shall call upon Dagon to dissolve " those magic spells that gave our hero strength," as a test of his power. The recitative is followed by an impressive six-part chorus (" Hear, Jacob's God ") in the true church style. Its smooth, quiet flow of harmony is refreshing as compared with the tumult of the giants' music which precedes, and the sensuousness of the chorus (" To Song and Dance we give the Day ") which follows it. The act closes with the massive double chorus (" Fixed in His everlasting Seat ") in which the Israelites and Philistines celebrate the attributes of their respective deities and invoke their protection, and in which also the composer brings out with overwhelming effect the majesty and grandeur of God as compared with the nothingness of Dagon.
The third act opens with a dialogue in which Harapha brings the message to Samson that he must repair to the feast of Dagon to delight the Philistines with some of his feats of strength. Upon Samson's refusal, Harapha sings the threatening aria, "Presuming Slave !" The Israelites invoke the protection of God in the spirited chorus, " With Thunder armed," closing with a prayer which changes to wild and supplicating entreaty. Samson at last yields in a tender, pathetic aria (" Thus when the Sun "), which seems to anticipate his fate. In a song of solemn parting (" The Holy One of Israel Abe thy Guide "), accompanied by the chorus (" To Fame immortal go "), his friends bid him farewell. The festivities begin, and in an exultant chorus (" Great Dagon has subdued our Foe ") the Phis-tines are heard exulting over Samson's discomfiture. Micah and Manoah, hearing the sounds, are filled with anxiety, and the latter expresses his solicitude in the tender aria, " How willing my paternal Love." But the scene suddenly changes. In a short, crashing presto the coming destruction is anticipated. The trembling Israelites express their alarm in the chorus, "Hear us, our God," and appeal to Heaven for protection. A Messenger rushes upon the scene and announces that Samson is dead and has involved the destruction of his enemies in the general calamity. Micah gives expression to his grief in the touching aria, "Ye Sons of Israel, now lament," followed by the Israelites in a sorrowful wail, " Weep, Israel, weep." A funeral march, in the major key, intervenes, full of tender expression of sorrow, — for which, after the first two representations Handel substituted the Dead March from " Saul ;" and both marches are now printed in the scores for general use. As at first written, the oratorio closed with the effective chorus and solo, -"
"For the Relief of the Prisoners in the several Gaols, and for the Support of Mercer's Hospital, in Stephen's Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn's Quay, on Monday, the lath of April, will be performed at the Musick Hill in Fishamble-street, Mr. Handel's new Grand Oratorio, called the Messiah, in which the Gentlemen of the Choirs of both Cathedrals will assist, with some Concertos on the Organ by Mr. Handel."
The first rehearsal took place on the 8th of April, in the presence of "a most Grand, Polite, and Crowded Audience," as we are informed by "Faulkner's Journal." The same paper, referring to the first public performance, which took place on Tuesday, April 13, 1742, says : —
"At the desire of several persons of distinction, the above performance is put off to Tuesday next. The doors will be opened at eleven, and the performance begins at twelve. Many ladies and gentlemen who are well-wishers to this noble and grand charity, for which this oratorio was composed, request it as a favor that the ladies who honor this performance with their presence would be pleased to come without hoops, as it would greatly increase the charity by making room for more company."
Gentlemen were also requested to come without their swords. " In this way," it is said, " the stewards" were able to seat seven hundred persons in the room instead of six hundred. The principal parts in the performance were assigned to Signora Avolio, Mrs. Cibber, and Messrs. Church and Ralph Roseingrane ; and Mrs. Cibber's delivery of the aria " He was despised " is said to have been so touching that Dr. Delany, the companion of Swift, exclaimed, as she closed : "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven."
The " Messiah " was performed thirty-four times during the composer's life, but never upon a scale commensurate with its merits until the Handel Commemoration at Westminster Abbey in i 784, when the largest choir and band that had ever assembled before, with the renowned Madame Mara at the head of the soloists; first gave the " Messiah " to the world in accordance with the grand ideal of the composer. The orchestra was composed as follows First violins, 40 , second violins, 47 ; tenors, 26 ; first oboes, 13 ; second oboes, 13 ; flutes, 6 violoncellos, 21 ; double-basses, 15 ; bassoons, 26; double-bassoon, 1; trumpets, 12 ; trombones, 6 ; - horns, 12 ; kettledrums, 3 ; double-kettledrum, r : total, 242. The choir was made up as follows: Sopranos, 6o, of whom 45 were choir-boys ; counter-tenors (altos), 40; tenors, 83; basses, 84 making the entire number of singers 267. Of the performance of the band upon this occasion, Burney quaintly says : —
"Dante in his Paradiso imagines nine circles, or choirs, of cherubs, seraphs, patriarchs, prophets, martyrs, saints, angels, and archangels, who with hand and voice are eternally praising and glorifying the Supreme Being, whom he places in the centre, taking the idea from Te Deum laudamus, where it is said: ' To Thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry,' etc. Now, as the orchestra in Westminster Abbey seemed to ascend into the clouds and unite with the saints and martyrs represented on the painted glass in the west window, which had all the appearance of a continuation of the Orchestra, I could hardly refrain, during the performance of the Allelujah, to imagine that this Orchestra, so admirably constructed, filled, and employed, was a point or segment of one of these celestial circles. And perhaps no band of mortal musicians ever exhibited a more respectable appearance to the eye, or afforded a more ecstatic and affecting sound to the ear, than this."
He is equally enthusiastic over the chorus ; and of Madame Mara's singing of the aria, "I know that my Redeemer liveth," he says : —
"Her power over the sensibility of the audience seemed equal to that of Mrs. Siddons There was no eye within my view which did not ' silently a gentle tear let fall,' nor, though long hackneyed in music, did I find myself made of stronger earth than others."
The oratorio is divided into three parts. The first illustrates the longing of the world for the Messiah, prophesies his coming, and announces his birth ; the second part is devoted to the sufferings, death, and exaltation of Christ, and develops the spread and ultimate triumph of the Gospel; while the third is occupied with the declaration of the highest truths of doctrine, —faith in the existence of God, the surety of immortal life, the resurrection, and the attainment of an eternity of happiness.
The first part opens with an overture, or rather orchestral prelude, of majestic chords, leading to a short fugue, developed with severe simplicity and preparing the way for the accompanied recitative, " Comfort ye My People," and the aria for tenor, "Every Valley shall be exalted," which in turn leads to the full, strong chorus, "And the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed," —the three numbers in reality forming one. The prophecy is announced, only to be followed by the human apprehension in the great aria for bass ("But who may abide the Day of His coming "), written in the Sicilian pastoral style, -- a form of which, Burney affirms, Handel was very fond. The aria leads to the exquisitely constructed number, "And He shall purify," a fugued chorus closing in simple harmony. Once more the prophet announces, "Behold, a Virgin shall conceive," followed by the alto solo, "O Than that tellest," which preludes a chorus in the same tempo. The next aria (" The People that walked in Darkness"), with its curious but characteristic modulations, leads to one of the most graphic fugued choruses in the whole work (" For unto us a Child is born "), elegantly interwoven with the violin parts, and emphasized with sublime announcements of the names of the Messiah in full harmony and with the strongest choral power. The grand burst of sound dies away, there is a significant pause, and then follows a short but exquisite Pastoral Symphony for the strings, which with the four succeeding bits of recitative tells the message of the Angels to the Shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem. Suddenly follows the chorus of the heavenly hosts (" Glory to God "), which is remarkably expressive, and affords sharp contrasts in the successive clear responses to the fugue. The difficult but very brilliant aria for soprano, Rejoice greatly," the lovely aria, "He shall feed His Flock," originally written entire for soprano, in which Handel returns again to the pastoral style, and a short chorus (" His Yoke is easy "), close the first part.
The second part is the most impressive portion of the work. It begins with a majestic and solemn chorus (" Behold the Lamb of God "), which is followed by the aria for alto, "He was despised," -- one of the most pathetic and deeply expressive songs ever written, in which the very key-note of sorrow is struck. Two choruses —" Surely He hath borne our Griefs," rather intricate in harmony, and "With His Stripes we are healed," a fugued chorus written a capella upon an admirable subject—lead to the spirited and thoroughly interesting chorus, " All we like Sheep have gone astray," closing with an adagio of great beauty (" And the Lord hath laid on Him the Iniquity of us all "). This is followed by several short numbers, -- a choral fugue (" He trusted in God "), the accompanied recitative ("Thy Rebuke hath broken His Heart"), a short but very pathetic aria for tenor (" Behold and see if there be any Sorrow"), and an aria for soprano (" But Thou didst not leave His Soul in Hein,— all of which are remarkable instances of the musical expression of sorrow and pity. These numbers lead to a triumphal shout in the chorus and semi-choruses, " Lift up your Heads, O ye Gates," which reach a climax of magnificent power and strongly contrasted effects. After the chorus, "Let all the Angels of God worship Him," - a fugue constructed upon two subjects, the aria, "Thou art gone up on high," and the chorus, "The Lord gave the Word," we reach another pastoral aria of great beauty, "How beautiful are the Feet." This is followed by a powerfully descriptive chorus (" Their Sound is gone out into all Lands"), a massive aria for bass (" Why do the Nations "), the chorus, " Let us break their Bonds asunder," and the aria, " Thou shalt break them, leading directly to the great Hallelujah Chorus, which is the triumph of the work and its real climax. It opens with exultant shouts of " Hallelujah." Then ensue three simple phrases, the middle one in plain counterpoint, which form the groundwork for the " Hallelujah." These phrases, -seemingly growing out of each other, and reiterated with constantly increasing power, interweaving with and sustaining the "Hallelujah " with wonderful harmonic effects, make up a chorus that has never been excelled, not only in musical skill, but also in grandeur and sublimity. After listening to its performance, one can understand. Handel's words : "I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God himself." This number closes the second part. It is worthy of note in this connection that when the oratorio was first performed at Covent Garden, London, in 1743, the whole audience, with the King at its head, arose during the singing of the " Hallelujah" and remained stand-, ing until it was finished, — a custom which is still observed, not only in England, but also in this country.
If the oratorio had closed at this point it would not have disturbed the unities; but Handel carried it into a third part with undiminished interest, opening it with that sublime confession of faith, "I know that my Redeemer liveth," - an aria which will never be lost. It is followed by two quartets in plain counterpoint with choral responses, " Since by Man came Death," and "For as in Adam all die," in which the effects of contrast are very forcibly brought out. The last important aria in the work 0' The Trumpet shall sound"), for bass with trumpet obligato, will always be admired for its beauty and stirring effect. The oratorio closes with three choruses, all in the same key and of the same general sentiment,—"Worthy is the Lamb," a piece of smooth, flowing harmony; "Blessing and Honor," a fugue led off by the tenors and bassos in unison, and repeated by the sopranos and altos on the octave, closing with full harmony on the Judas Maccabaeus words " for ever and ever" several times reiterated,; and the final, " Amen" chorus, which is treated in the severest style, and in which the composer evidently gave free rein to his genius, not being hampered with the trammels of words.
Other oratorios may be compared one with an-other; the "Messiah stands alone, a majestic monument to the memory of the composer, an imperishable record of the noblest sentiments of human nature and the highest aspiration of man.
The oratorio of " Judas Maccabaeus " was written in thirty-two days, between July 9 and Aug. II, 1746, upon the commission of Frederic, Prince of Wales, to celebrate the return of the Duke of Cumberland from Scotland after the decisive victory of CuIloden, April 16, 1 746. The words were written by the Rev. Thomas Morell, D,D., a learned Greek scholar of that time, the plot being taken from the narrative of the exploits of the Jewish deliverer contained in the first book of Maccabees and in the twelfth book of Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews." In his dedication, Dr. Morell says : —
"To His Royal Highness Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, this faint portraiture of a truly wise, valiant, and virtuous commander as the possessor of the like noble qualities is, with the most profound respect and veneration, inscribed by His Royal Highness' most obedient and most devoted servant the author."
To what extremes of adulation even a doctor of divinity may go, is well shown in Schoelcher's pithy comment : " This is addressed to a man who pitilessly murdered as many prisoners after the battle as his courage had slain enemies during the combat." It is but just to the composer, however, to say that the great success of this oratorio had little to do with the political causes which led to its composition. It was first performed at Covent Garden, April r, 1747, and was repeated six times that year. Handel himself conducted it thirty-eight times with ever growing popularity, to which the Jews contributed greatly, as it glorified an episode in their national history.
The characters represented are Judas Maccabæus ; Simon, his brother ; an Israelitish Messenger; and Israelitish Men and Women. The story may be gathered from the following summary of the plot as prepared for the Birmingham Festival of 1861:
PART I. - Lamentations for the death of Mattathias (the father of Judas Maccabæus and Simon), by whom the Jewish people had been roused to resist the cruelties and oppressions of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian king, in his attempt to suppress their religion and liberties. — The di-vine favor invoked. — Judas recognized as leader.
Appeal to the patriotism of the people, and their response. -- The value of liberty.— Preparations for war. — Pious trust in God, and heroic resolve to conquer or die.
PART II. - Celebration of the victories gained over the armies of Apollonius, the governor of Sa-maria, and Seron, the Deputy Governor of Coelesyria, and the valor of Judas. — Renewal of war by a division of the Syrian army from Egypt, under Gorgias, and the despondency it occasions among the Israelites.—Judas again arouses the failing courage of the people, and they set out to meet the enemy. — Those who remain behind utter their detestation of the heathen idolatries, by which the sanctuary at Jerusalem had been desecrated, and their determination only to worship the God of Israel.
PART III. — Feast of the dedication at Jerusalem, after Judas and his followers had recovered and restored the sanctuary, and re-established the liberties of his country. — Return of Judas from his final victory over Nicanor and his con-federates. — Celebration of peace, and national thanksgiving.
The first scene introduces the Israelitish Men and Women lamenting the death of the father of Judas in the sorrowful chorus, " Mourn, ye afflicted Children," which, after a duet for soprano and tenor, is followed by still another chorus in a similar strain ("For Zion Lamentation make "), but much more impressive, and rising to a more powerful climax. After a brief and simple soprano solo (" Pious Orgies "), the chorus sings the prayer, " 0 Father, whose Almighty Power," closing with a characteristic fugue on the words, "And grant a Leader." After a short recitative, Simon (bass) breaks out in the heroic and sonorous aria, "Arm, arm, ye brave," which has always retained its popularity, notwithstanding its antique bravura. It is followed by the chorus in the brief, but stirring number, " We come in bright array." Five arias, a duet, and two choruses, nearly all of which are now omitted in performances, being of the same general character, and mainly apostrophes to liberty, lead to ,the great chorus closing the first part, " Hear us, O Lord." It is intricate in its construction, but when properly sung resolves itself into one of the most vigorous and impressive choruses Handel has written.
The second part opens with the Israelites celebrating the return of Judas from the victories over Apollonius and Seron. An instrumental prelude, picturing the scenes of battle, leads directly to the great chorus, the best in the work, " Fallen is the Foe." The triumphant declaration is made over and over with constantly increasing energy, finally leading to a brilliant fugue on the words, "Where warlike Judas wields his righteous Sword ; " but interwoven with it are still heard those notes of victory, "Fallen is the Foe," and the response, " So fall Thy Foes." The Israelitish Man sings a vigorous tribute to Judas (" So rapid thy Course is "). The triumphant strain, "Zion now her Head shall raise," is taken by two voices, closing with the soprano alone ; but before her part ends, the whole chorus takes it and joins in the pan, "Tune your Harps," and the double number ends in broad, flowing harmony. In a florid number (" From mighty Kings he took the Spoil''') the Israelitish Woman once more sings Judas's praise. The two voices unite in a welcome (" Hail Judæa, happy Land "), and finally the whole chorus join in a simple but jubilant acclaim to the same words. The rejoicings soon change to expressions of alarm and apprehension as a Messenger enters and announces that Gorgias has been sent by Antiochus to attack the Israelites, and is already near at hand. They join in a chorus expressive of deep despondency (" Oh, wretched Israel") ; but Simon, in a spirited aria (" The Lord worketh Wonders "), bids them put their trust in Heaven, and Judas rouses their courage with the martial trumpet song, "Sound an Alarm," which, though very brief, is full of vigor and fire. After the departure of Judas to meet the foe, Simon, the Israelitish Man, and the Israelitish Woman follow each other in de nunciation of the idolatries which have been practised by the heathen among them, and close with the splendid chorus, We never will bow down to the rude Stock or sculptured Stone," in which vigorous repetitions of the opening phrase lead to a chorale in broad, impressive harmony, with which is interwoven equally vigorous repetitions of the phrase, " We worship God alone."
The third part opens with the impressive prayer, Father of Heaven, from Thy eternal Throne," sung by the Priest. As the fire ascends from the altar, the sanctuary having been purified of its heathen defilement, the Israelites look upon it as an omen of victory and take courage. A Messenger enters with tidings of Judas's triumph over all their enemies. The Israelitish Maidens and Youths go out to meet him, singing the exultant march chorus, " See the Conquering Hero comes," which is familiar to every one by its common use on all occasions, from Handel's time to this, where tribute has been paid to martial success and heroes have been welcomed. It is the universal accompaniment of victory, as the Dead March in " Saul " is of the pageantry of death. It is very simple in its construction, like many others of Handel's most effective numbers. It is first sung as a three-part chorus, then as a duet or chorus of Virgins, again by the full power of all the voices, and gradually dies away in the form of an instrumental march. The chorus did not originally belong to " Judas Maccabæus," but to " Joshua," in which oratorio it is addressed to Othniel when he returns from the capture of Debir. Handel frequently made transfers of that kind, and this was a permanent one ; for the celebrated chorus is now unalterably identified with the work in which he placed it, and in which also the setting is still more imposing. A very elaborate chorus (" Sing unto God " ), a florid aria with trumpet solo for Judas (" With Honor let Desert be crowned"), the chorus, " To our Great God," a pastoral duet with exquisite accompaniment (" O Lovely Peace "), and a Hallelujah in the composer's customary exultant style, close this very brilliant and dramatic oratorio.
The Dettingen Te Deum.
On the 27th of June, 1743, the British army and its allies, under the command of King George II. and Lord Stair, won a victory at Dettingen, in Bavaria, over the French army, commanded by the Maréchal de Noailles and the Duc de Grammont. It was a victory plucked from an expected defeat, and aroused great enthusiasm in England. On the King's return, a day of public thanksgiving was appointed, and Handel, who was at that time " Composer of Musick to the Chapel Royal," was commissioned to write a Te Deum and an anthem for the occasion. The original score, a large folio volume in the Royal Collection, is headed " Angefangen Juli 17, 1743." There is no date at the end ; but as the beginning of the Dettingen Anthem is dated July 3o, it is probable that the Te Deum was finished between the 17th and 30th. Both works were publicly rehearsed at the Chapel Royal, Whitehall, on the 18th and 25th of the ensuing November, and formed part of the thanksgiving services on the 2 7th at the Chapel Royal of St. James, in the presence of the King and royal family.
The Dettingen Te Deum has been universally considered as one of the masterpieces among HandeI's later works. Never was a victory more enthusiastically commemorated in music. It is not a Te Deum in the strict sense, but a grand martial panegyric, and, as Rockstro says : —
"It needs no great stretch of the imagination to picture every drum and trumpet in the realm taking part in the gorgeous fanfare of its opening chorus, while the whole army, with the King at its head, joins the assembled nation in a shout of praise for the escape which was so unexpectedly changed into a memorable victory."
Schoelcher, in his reference to this work, notes that Handel set the hymn of St. Ambrose to music five different times in thirty years, and always with new beauty and fresh color, though it is somewhat remarkable that he gave each time a plaintive character to the verse, " To Thee all angels cry aloud," — a fact also observed by Burney, who says : —
" There is some reason to suspect that Handel, in setting his grand Te Deum for the peace of Utrecht, as well as in this, confined the meaning of the word `cry ' to a sorrowful sense, as both the movements to the words ' To Thee all angels cry aloud' are not only in a minor key, but slow and plaintive."
Burney further says, speaking of its performance at the great Handel Commemoration in Westminster Abbey in 1784 : -
"As it was composed for a military triumph, the fourteen trumpets, two pairs of common kettledrums, two pairs of double drums from the Tower, and a pair of double-bass drums made expressly for this occasion, were introduced with great propriety; indeed, these last drums, except the destruction, had all the effect of the most powerful artillery."
The Te Deum contains eighteen short solos and choruses, mostly of a brilliant, martial character, the solos being divided between the alto, baritone, and bass. After a brief instrumental prelude, the work opens with the triumphant, jubilant chorus with trumpets and drums, "We praise Thee, O God,'' written for five parts, the sopranos being divided into firsts and seconds, containing also a short alto solo leading to a closing fugue. The second number (" All the Earth doth worship Thee ") is also an alto solo with five-part chorus of the same general character. It is followed by a semi-chorus in three parts ("To Thee all Angels cry aloud"), plaintive in style, as has already been observed, and leading to the full chorus (" To Thee Cherubim and Seraphim "), which is majestic in its movement and rich in harmony. The fifth number is a quartet and chorus ("The glorious Company of the Apostles praise Thee"), dominated by the bass, with responses from the other parts, and followed by a short full chorus ("Thine adorable, true, and only Son"). The seventh number is a stirring bass solo with trumpets (" Thou art the King of Glory "), leading without break into a stately choral enunciation of the saine words, The eighth is a slow and plaintive bass solo, usually sung by a tenor (" When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver Man "), followed by a grave and impressive chorus ("When Thou hadst overcome the Sharpness of Death "). The next number is a trio for alto, tenor, and bass (" Thou sittest at the Right Hand of God " ), closing with a beautiful adagio effect. A fanfare of trumpets introduces the next four numbers, all choruses, set to four verses of the hymn : —
"We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants: Whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.
In this group of choruses the art of fugue and counterpoint is splendidly illustrated, but never to the sacrifice of brilliant effect, which is also heightened by the trumpets in the accompaniments. An impressive bass solo (" Vouchsafe, O Lord") intervenes, and then the trumpets sound the stately symphony to the final chorus, " O Lord, in Thee have I trusted." It begins with a long alto solo with delicate oboe accompaniment that makes the effect very impressive when voices and instruments take up the phrase in a magnificent outburst of power and rich harmony, and carry it to the close.