In our continuation of looking at selections from Handel’s Messiah, we are going to look at the air Why do the Nations so Furiously Rage? This air takes a lot of air to sing but that’s not why it’s called an air. It is a solo piece for bass (a male singer, not a fish) which takes incredible lung power.

One thing we’ll notice in particular about this piece is the use of melismas *new musical term alert*. It is a word that means one syllable of a word is sung on multiple notes. One example of a melisma in a familiar song is in Angels We Have Heard on High, on the word “Gloria”. Glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ri-a- that’s how it’s broken up. You can probably hear it in your head. The last piece we looked at (All We Like Sheep) also had melismas on the words “astray” and “turned”.

Why do the Nations requires a lot of lung power not only because of the melismas, but also because of the fact that it is a solo work. You cannot take breaths in the middle of the a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a parts (it’s against the rules), you have to do it according to how it’s written. But in a piece like the last one with the whole choir singing, you can take breaths when you need to, just not the same time as everyone else (and not in the middle of words). When you see this you will wonder when he has time to take a breath.

We will come across some word painting again in this work.

The text for this air is based on Psalm 2:1-2-

“Why do the nations rage
And the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His anointed…”

The lyrics of this piece are:

“Why do the nations so furiously rage together:
Why do the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth rise up
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the Lord and His anointed”

Take a listen and note the following below:

-It starts with fast music and minor (mwuhaha) chords, which continue throughout the work symbolize the “rage” and anger of the nations.

-00:06- Painting of Handel

-00:10- Picture of William Warfield, the singer, which is not a painting

-The long melismas at 00:35, 00:48, 01:19, 02:07, 02:20,

-02:01 Word painting with the music going higher on the word “up”

In the coming weeks we will look at two of my favorite movements in Handel’s Messiah (of many more), which will be revealed when I post them. Until then, you can only guess which two they will be.

Hint: you know one already


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