One-Minute Book Reviews

December 18, 2008

How to Listen to Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – What Are the Functions of a Recitative, an Aria and a Chorus?

Filed under: Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:38 pm
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At this time of year people often speak of the “Christmas portion” of Handel’s Messiah as opposed to the “Easter portion.” But are those terms accurate? A few comments from Robert J. Summer, a professor of choral studies at the University of South Florida and founding conductor of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, in his Choral Masterworks From Bach to Britten: Reflections of a Conductor (Scarecrow, 2007):

“Part I is more than just the Christmas portion since it encompasses also the prophecy and Christ’s sojourn on earth. Part II focuses on Christ’s suffering and death, but also includes movements for the resurrection and ascension as well as the spreading of the gospel.”

Summer writes of the pieces that directly follow the Overture (#1) in Messiah:

“The internal structure of most Baroque oratorios, including Messiah, is organized into sequences of recitative, aria, and chorus. The function of the recitative is to relate the story or action; the aria reflects on the action or becomes a state of mind; and the chorus completes the thought, summarizes the situation, or participates in the action (the turba chorus). An example this relationship can be observed in the first three vocal pieces of the work. The recitative, ‘Comfort ye’ (#2), ends with instructions on how to prepare for the coming of Christ – ‘make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’ The aria, ‘Every valley’ (#3), describes what needs to be done in order to carry out these instructions – [Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain]. And if all this is accomplished, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed as sung by the chorus in ‘And the Glory of the Lord’ (#4).”

Listen to tenor Paul Elliott singing “Comfort Ye” and “Every Valley” from Messiah, conducted by Christopher Hogwood ,at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhy2SRHqpuQ. Listen to the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, singing “And the Glory of the Lord” from Messiah at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZorcMYb3fPo&feature=related/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

April 4, 2007

Handel Wrote ‘Messiah’ in 24 Days (and You Thought You Were Productive at Work) … Quotes of the Day #16 and #17

Do you have what it takes to write the “Hallelujah” chorus?

Come unto me, all ye that labor and believe you are worthy of the next employee-of-the-month award. Many authors have marveled at how quickly G. F. Handel wrote Messiah, which has a score of more than 250 pages that he finished in 24 days. Percy M. Young writes in The Oratorios of Handel (Dobson, 1949):

“Handel’s habit of rapid construction came less from the supposed mystery of ‘inspiration’ than from the fluency of technique: with him a set piece was accomplished in the shortest possible time so that other aspects of life could be accommodated. Messiah was composed, with perhaps more than usual haste, between August 22 and September 14, 1741. Clearly the beginning of the season of mellow fruitfulness … The original score comprises some 250 pages of manuscript; which means that Handel wrote, on the average, a little over ten pages a day.”

But take heart if this makes your daily output look a little less impressive. Peter Jacobi writes in The Messiah Book: The Life and Times of G.F. Handel’s Greatest Hit (St. Martin’s, 1982):

“Granted, some of the music wasn’t new; he’d used it before, an aria here, a duet there … And there are indications of changes: seven stabs at the great ‘Amen,’ for instance.”

There, now don’t you feel better?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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