So far my posts have been about music from the Romantic period, but now we’re gonna go even further back in time. Almost 300 years back in time, in fact, to the beginning of the 1700s. When people wore wigs, women wore huge dresses and had elaborate hairdos. Before the United States became a nation, (even though they still wore wigs then) and shortly after Shakespeare. We go now to the Baroque Period:
Handel was one such person who wore wigs, and he happened to be a composer. He is in fact, the one who wrote the famous Hallelujah chorus (which you will hear a lot this time of year), which is from the his oratorio Messiah. The amazing thing about his work is that he wrote it in less than a month, and yet it is a masterpiece (he had mad skills). Just thinking about that for a minute makes you feel unaccomplished and think, “Wow I need to be more productive.”
One dangerous question you might venture to ask about this work is “Uh oh how long is this one?” since we have been looking a some longer works. The whole thing is about 2 hours. So we are not gonna even come close to looking at this work in its entirety, but instead look at bits and pieces. There are around 40 movements (songs) in it, so at the rate we’re going it would take almost a year to look at it. Don’t worry we’ll just look at a few movements.
Another not so dangerous question you may ask is “What is an oratorio??” An oratorio is a fancy musical word for a composition that includes people singing texts from the Bible. It can be a bunch of people, or they can have solos. Oratorios tell a story, but without sets and costumes and stuff. Handel’s Messiah tells a story in three parts.
The first part is about the prophecy concerning Jesus and and highlights the events surrounding His birth, the second part is about His crucifixion, death, and resurrection, and the third part is about the final resurrection of the dead and judgment (the day of wrath again). So technically this is not really Christmas music, since Christmas music focuses on the birth of Jesus. This tells the whole story all the way to the end. Therefore, people have no right to judge you when you blast it in the middle of the summer like I do. Their arguments are invalid.
There are songs or movements that are similar in style to operas in this oratorio: overtures, arias, recitatives, and choruses. Because of this, it may sound like an opera, but the subject is biblical and no one is acting on stage. We will come to look at some of these types of movements as we explore selections from Handel’s Messiah in the following weeks.
For those of you in the United States, enjoy your Thanksgiving (sorry no post this Friday) and be sure to come back at the usual time next week.