picture of Frideric Handel
lab51 clef icon George Frideric Handel
Messiah
(Dublin, April 13, 1742)
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Listening Guide for Part II of Handel's Messiah

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22.) Disk 1, Track 14. Chorus, Behold the Lamb of God, G minor, John 1:29
The feeling of impending tragedy and sadness is achieved at the start of this movement with its somber minor key. The seriousness of the mood is felt also in the dotted rhythms that pervade the movement. As in No. 1, the Sinfony that served as the overture to the entire work, this chorus is in the French overture style with rhythms that should be played in a double dotted manner, as in the opening of the movement:



Notice that the short-long-short-long-short-long rhythmic pattern is not exact, but almost swings, with the long segment of the unit held slightly longer than notated. This is a musical convention of the period, and anyone performing a piece notated in this way would have known to treat the rhythms with double dotting.

You might think, here and elsewhere, of how Handel makes such a long piece out of such a short text. How many distinct sections are there? What is different about each? How are ideas of contrast and return used to create a larger shape?

 

23.) Disk 1, Track 15. Aria (Alto), He was despised and rejected, E flat major, Isaiah 53, 3
An example of a da capo aria, this piece begins with an eight-measure instrumental introduction before the voice enters the texture. What is the tempo of this section? As you continue to listen, think about the relationship between the voice and the string accompaniment. Do they sing and play at the same time? What effect does Handel create by laying out the voice in such a way that a number of phrases are completely unaccompanied? At which point does the style of the music change? In what ways does it change? Does the text reflect a change at this point also? Notice that when the second section is finished the singer returns to the beginning (da capo) and repeats the first section in its entirety, thus resulting in an ABA musical structure.

 

24.) Disk 2, Track 1. Chorus, Surely he hath borne our griefs, F minor, Isaiah 53, 4-5
This chorus picks up the distress of the previous aria and builds upon it. The string figuration of dotted sixteenth notes develops out of the middle section of the aria. Handel's setting of "Surely" as a three syllable word here causes choirs some difficulty. Some conductors choose to have the singers perform the three syllables as printed, others make the word into two syllables with the first syllable stretched to include the first and second notes of the three-note unit. What does our choir do? This chorus is not completely separated from the one that follows ("And with his stripes"), and together they can be seen as a kind of French overture. (A French overture from this period, like the opening Sinfony of Messiah, is a two-part piece, the first part in a slow stately style--as we find in "Surely he has borne our griefs--, and the second usually faster and fugal--as in "And with his stripes.")

 

25.) Disk 2, Track 1. Chorus, And with his stripes we are healed, F minor, Isaiah 53, 5
This is a fugue chorus. It is so called because it employs the procedure of fugue, which is an imitative texture. In a fugue a melody (or subject) is stated by each voice in turn, developed, repeated, and moved around among the voices to make a polyphonic texture. This chorus follows on from the dotted rhythms of "Surely" just as the fugal section of the "Sinfony" followed the dotted opening. Listen to the opening of this piece and see if you can identify the entries of the fugue subject in each of the voices. Why does Handel choose such an angular and severe fugue subject? Note the difference in musical setting between "stripes" and "healed":

 

26.) Disk 2, Track 2. Chorus, All we like sheep, F major, Isaiah 53, 6
This chorus is the final realization of the text from the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. Beginning with "He was despised," Handel sets verses 3 to 6 in four consecutive movements representing the Passion. It is again a duet chorus adapted from the same cantata for two solo voices as provided the material for "For unto us a child is born." The opening of this movement reflects the desolation of the previous aria. Note the use of texture throughout the piece: homophonic texture dominates at the beginning, but does this continue? Because we know that the musical material used for this chorus began as a duet, you may find it possible to distinguish sections that sound more like a duet than a chorus. Turn your attention now to the text: how are the words "have gone astray" and "we have turned everyone to his own way" set to music? The final section provides a marked contrast to what comes before. Note the change in tempo markings and note values.

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27.) Disk 2, Track 3. Recitative (Tenor), All they that see him laugh him to scorn, E flat major, Psalm 22, 7
Which instruments set up the dramatic background for the voice in this recitativo accompagnato? A characteristic of many accompanied recitatives is a variety of changing moods. Does this piece fit that description? Try to name an emotional characteristic of each movement in the short text (rage, scorn, etc.)

 

28.) Disk 2, Track 3. Chorus, He trusted in God, C minor, Psalm 22, 8
Like And with his stripes this is also a fugue chorus. Can you hear each voice part entering with the fugue theme? Which voice begins the fugue and which is the last to come in? This is a crowd scene (of the type we find in German "Passion" settings from this period), and you might imagine the passersby (represented by the four parts of the chorus) contributing to the group by entering the musical texture each at a different time. The fugue is used to wonderful effect here to depict the sound of a crowd.

Note: There is a handout of this number here.

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29.) Disk 2, Track 4. Recitative (Tenor), Thy rebuke hath broken his heart, Psalm 69: 20
If you are able to analyze the harmony in this movement, you will notice that this recitative moves from A flat to the key of B major in a very short span of time (these keys are not closely related, and thus modulating between them requires much maneuvering). If you cannot analyze this piece harmonically, perhaps you can still feel a tension in the music and an unsettled quality. The quick shift between keys here and the harmonic instability of the movement can be interpreted as a reflection of the desolation of the text.

30.) Disk 2, Track 4. Aria (Tenor), Behold, and see if there be any sorrow, E minor, Lamentations, 1: 12

31.) Disk 2, Track 4. Recitative (Soprano 1), He was cut off out of the land of the living, E minor, Isaiah 53: 8

32.) Disk 2, Track 5. Aria (Soprano 1), But thou didst not leave his soul in hell, A major, Psalm 16: 10

Note: Nos. 29 to 32 make a unit. Here the first soprano sings the second recitative and aria, but in other versions the tenor is given all four numbers. These movements are succinct--a far remove from the full-blown da capo style of other Handelian arias--and they convey the text in as simple a manner as possible.

 

33.) Disk 2, Track 6. Semi-Chorus and Chorus, Lift up your heads, O ye gates, F major, Psalm 24: 7-10
The forces of this chorus are divided between a three-part choir of upper voices (two soprano parts and alto) and a three-part choir of lower voices (alto, tenor, and bass) with the alto voice split between the two. At which point in the piece do all five voices sing together, and what is the effect of this sound and how does it reflect the text?

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34.) Disk 2, Track 7. Recitative (Tenor), Unto which of the angels said he at any time, A major, Hebrews, 1: 5

 

35.) Disk 2, Track 7. Chorus, Let all the angels of God worship him, D major, Hebrews, 1: 6
This is another fugue chorus, but it has a more complicated structure than the others in that it has more than one fugue subject. How does this movement begin, and when does the fugue actually start? Which voice begins the fugue? How many fugue subjects do you notice here? Is the first voice to enter the fugal texture imitated by the next voice to enter? When does that initial theme reappear and in which voice?

 

36.) Disk 2, Track 8. Aria (Soprano 2), Thou art gone up on high, G minor, Psalm 68: 18
You will notice in your score that several versions of this aria exist: one for bass, two for alto, and one for soprano. The soprano version is the one used for our recording. Notice the way Handel sets some words ("received" and "dwell") to long strings of notes. These long strings are called melismas and are typical of baroque music from Monteverdi on. They challenge the soloist's breath support and add excitement to the vocal line.

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37.) Disk 2, Track 9. Chorus, The Lord gave the word, B flat, Psalm 68: 11
In this anthem chorus Handel makes a striking distinction between the word of God (the opening of the text) and its dissemination by the preachers (the next line of the text). How does Handel do this?

 

38.) Disk 2, Track 10. Aria (Soprano 1), How beautiful are the feet, G minor, Romans, 10: 15
This setting is not the one that was heard at the first performance (there Handel provided a duet for soprano and alto at this point in the work), but it is the one that Handel settled on not long after.

 

39.) Disk 2, Track 11. Chorus, Their sound is gone out, E flat major, Romans 10: 18
This chorus was added to the oratorio after the first performance and was thus never heard in Dublin. It is another example of a fugue chorus and provides wonderful textural contrast with the arias that precede and follow it. Again, the fugal texture is well selected for pictorial purposes.

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40.) Disk 2, Track 12. Aria (bass), Why do the nations so furiously rage together?, C major, Psalm 2: 1-2
This piece is also altered from the version that was heard at the premiere. It was originally a longer aria (version A in your score), but Handel subsequently shortened the aria portion and set the remainder of the text as a recitative at the end of the aria. This is the version on the Hogwood recording. This aria is a wonderful example the way Handel exploited the technical facility of his singers to express text. Here the bass is asked to sing long strings of notes to one syllable in a thrilling expression of rage. The tempo and the furious, unrelenting playing of the violins also add to the tension of this aria. Notice how the bass's long melismas are set to triplet figures against the groupings of four sixteenth notes in the strings. This 3 against 4 rhythm creates a kind of rhythmic friction that fits the text.

 

41.) Disk 2, Track 12. Chorus, Let us break their bonds asunder, C major, Psalm 2: 3
Another fugue chorus, this time with very close entries of the voices. Here the chorus finishes the sentiments expressed by the solo bass in the previous number.

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42.) Disk 2, Track 13. Recitative (Tenor), He that dwelleth in heaven, Psalm 2: 4

 

43.) Disk 2, Track 13. Aria (Tenor), Thou shalt break them, A minor, Psalm 2: 9
This brief aria has an obbligato for violins. Rather than having a large, contrasting middle section, as we would find in a da capo aria, this aria develops one main musical idea.

 

44.) Disk 2, Track 14. Chorus, Hallelujah, D major, Revelation 19: 6, 11: 15, 19: 16
The most famous piece in this oratorio, the Hallelujah chorus is an example of an anthem chorus. It combines both homophonic and polyphonic textures. It is a marvelous and cathartic culmination after the poignantly sorrowful numbers that fall in this part of the oratorio. After a long silence in Part II, trumpets are used again (and this time with the timpani) and their bright sound adds to the sense of release and joyful expectation. On the words "King of kings and lord of lords" the sopranos hold out long notes, each one higher than the one before, while the lower voices sing "forever and ever..." This effect, combined with the sound of the trumpets and timpani, provides a thrilling end to Part Two.

Note: There is a handout for this number here.

End of Part II.

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