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.