1.) Sinfony (Orchestra), E minor (Sourcebook score page 1) This opening orchestral movement serves as an overture to the oratorio as a whole. Though musically not connected directly
with the following vocal sections, there is a sense in which Handel establishes
a musical and dramatic curtain at the outset. It is in two
sections, the first in a slow tempo (Grave) with dottedrhythms dominating the melodicline, the second much faster, in fugal style with intricate passagework and much imitation between the instrumental parts. Identify the textures that Handel uses in these two sections. Listening
to the performance on the Hogwood recording, you may notice
that the dotted rhythms of the first section sound somewhat
exaggerated, almost double dotted. This feature is characteristic of modern historically-informed
performance practice; here the performers play on instruments
using eighteenth-century techniques, and the instruments used
in the recording are quite different from their modern counterparts.
2.) Recitative (Tenor): Comfort ye my people, E major, Isaiah 40, 1-3 (Sourcebook score page 6) In his score, Handel used the word Accompagnato for this
piece, thus signifying that this is a solovocalmovement in the style of recitativo accompagnato. Here there
is an instrumentalaccompaniment in addition to the simple keyboard and continuo
instruments found in simple recitative--recitativo secco.
In accompanied recitative the vocal line does not present a melody or thematic material of the sort one would expect to
find in an aria, but there is much musical expression, reflecting
the text, that is built into the vocal line. The accompaniment
intensifies this expression. This movement is one of the most
elaborate of the accompanied recitatives in Messiah. The slow
moving strings immediately create an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity
for the opening tenor entry "Comfort ye." What is
the relationship between the vocal melody and the material
presented by the orchestra? Do they share any musical material?
Notice the embellishment that the singer adds in the measure
marked "ad libitum"; this is one of the things that
makes this number a particularly elaborate accompanied recitative
and quite unlike what you would hear in recitativo secco.
Consider how this movement functions as the first vocal number
of the work as a whole. Are there extra considerations for
the composer in presenting this first vocal number to the
3.) Aria (Tenor): Ev'ry valley shall be exalted, E major, Isaiah 40, 4 (Sourcebook score page 8) In English works of this period composers often used
the words "air", "song", and "aria"
interchangeably--all designate a movement for solovoice and are distinct from recitative. (For reasons of consistency we are using the designation
"aria" here, but you will notice that this piece
is called and "air" in the table of contents of
the score in your sourcebook, and it is called a "song"
in your the booklet that comes with the Hogwood recording.)
The writing in this aria is much different from that in the
preceding recitative, and there is much more pronounced contrast
between recitative and aria styles than we found in Monteverdi's
L'Orfeo. Yet you may have noticed that nos. 2, 3,
and 4 have as their text an extract from Isaiah, and further
that Handel uses the recitative, aria, and choral style for
consecutive verses. What does this imply about the composer's
approach to the text? There are two formal aspects to the
music here (no. 3) that are common to many of the arias in
Messiah. The first is the use of a ritornello, an instrumental section, to open and close the movement. We have
already heard the ritornello technique in a somewhat different
guise in L'Orfeo. But here the ritornello has a second
function, for it often introduces the thematic material that is to be sung by the soloist. The second formal aspect is the use of a two-part
musical structure AA', that is, a single section which is
then repeated in varied form. Each of these sections presents
the text in its entirety, and contains two distinct musical
ideas. The first idea presents text from "Ev'ry valley,"
the second text from "The crooked straight." Note
the difference in the way each section moves from the first
idea to the second. This piece is also full of word painting, with the words "crooked," "straight,"
"exalted," and "plain" all cleverly depicted
through the music. Finally, notice the elaborate ornamentalline that the singer adds at the end of the piece on this
recording. This is called a cadenza; it is a flourish that the singer can add at will,
making it up as he goes along if he so chooses. Listen here
as the tenor is performing a cadenza that appeared in pencil
in Handel's conducting score.
4.) Chorus: And the glory of the Lord, A major, Isaiah, 40, 5 (Sourcebook score page 14) Handel uses a four-part chorus in Messiah,
with the standard combination of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. The chorus opens with an instrumentalritornello in the strings, with the first alto entry picking up the ritornello
theme. As the movement progresses, trace how Handel introduces each new
phrase of text. Listen for the first entries on the following
text phrases "Shall be revealed," "And all
flesh shall see it together," and "For the mouth
of the Lord has spoken it." How does Handel melodically differentiate the second and third phrases of
5.) Recitative (Bass): Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, D minor, Haggai 2. 6-7 (Sourcebook score page 21) Again, Handel uses recitativo accompagnato. Another characteristic of accompanied
recitative (and of recitative in general) is the variety of
changing moods that can be depicted very quickly in the course
of a short piece of music. "Thus saith the Lord"
provides an excellent example, for the stringaccompaniment not only reflects the general mood of the text,
but also directly represents the text (on words such as "shake").
The singer's depiction of the text here is even more graphic.
In some movements, Handel elects to use this technique of word painting, through which the music is made to represent
an aspect of the text in a fairly literal manner, while in
others he is clearly not concerned with it. As you listen,
try to identify other examples in which Handel uses this technique,
and also places in the libretto where he could introduce such representation but
does not. Is Handel systematic in this regard?
6.) Aria (Soprano 2): But who may abide, A minor, Malachai 3, 2 (Sourcebook score page 36) This aria is another example of a deviation from
da capo form, although, as in a da capo aria, it capitalizes on alternations between two highly
contrasting sections of music. It begins with a slow string
ritornello (Largetto), and continues with the solovoice singing the words "But who may abide...".
This is interrupted dramatically by a section marked Prestissimo (as fast as possible), in the relative majorkey (on our recording this is C major), with a tremolostrings accompaniment, strikingly depicting the text "For he
is like a refiner's fire...". The aria continues with
a return to the Larghetto section, a second Prestissimo, closing
with an instrumental ritornello taking the opening of the fast section
as its subject and finishing in the original key (A minor
in this version). Thus the form might be represented as ABA'B'.
The musical palette of this aria is seemingly much more varied
and dramatic than no. 3. One could easily imagine a singer
on stage, mood vacillating from one of peace to one of fury
and back again. This type of musical contrast was well established
in arias of the time written for Italian opera, and even though this is not a da capo aria, Handel
has achieved the same goal of artful contrast here as he does
in his strict da capo arias.
You will notice in your score that three versions of this aria exist, one for bass, one for alto and one for soprano. Today we almost always hear an alto
sing this piece, but on our recording you will notice that
a soprano sings it. In fact, Handel scored this aria in two
different keys for soprano. The first scoring was in fact
for alto, however, and this is the version that would have
been heard at the first performance.
7.) Chorus, And he shall purify, G minor, Malachai, 3,3 (Sourcebook score page 44) This is an example of an ensemble chorus, often referred
to as a "duet chorus." We have several examples of this type that
Handel adapted from works he had previously written in Italian
for two soloists. And he shall purify begins with an imitative duettexture pairing first soprano and bass, and then alto and tenor. Each part contains technically demanding passagework
(long lines of sixteenth notes) first, but, as is typical in much of Handel's
writing of this type, he then changes to a homophonic texture (listen to how the texture changes for
the words "...that they may offer unto the Lord...".
The words are set simultaneously in the choral parts with
the long strings of sixteenth notes now transferred to the first and
second violins. by using this technique of alternating textures (which
you can hear as the movement continues), Handel is able to maintain musical interest.
Another point to notice is in the opening melody. Compare the first two phrases setting the words "And He shall purify."
For the second of these (see measures 2-4 in the score) Handel jumps from D up to G, rather than descending
from D to G as he had in the opening phrase (measures 1-2);
in this second phrase he then holds the high G for four eighth notes and then uses a sequence of sixteenth notes to extend the phrase. Superficially
this may seem unimportant, yet it is the type of compositional
technique that characterizes Handel's music in this work.
8.) Recitative (Alto), Behold a virgin shall conceive, D major, Isaiah, 7, 14; Matthew 1, 23 (Sourcebook score page
50) This is an example of recitativo secco or standard recitative. The voice is accompanied by a keyboard and bass instruments, providing, for the most part, a relatively
simple chordal underpinning. The vocal style is direct, and the closest that we have comes
so far to the recitative of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo,
reflecting the natural speech rhythms of the text and the inflections of the spoken voice.
Compare this with nos. 2 and 5 in Messiah--why did
Handel choose accompanied recitative for those numbers but standard recitative
for this one?
9.) Aria (Alto) and Chorus, O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,
D major, Isaiah 40, 9 (Sourcebook score page 51) Opening and closing stringritornello sections frame this movement. Here the alto aria leads directly and unexpectedly
to a choral section, and this is another example of Handel's
wish to find different approaches to the aria than using the
da capo formula. The chorus has a homophonictexture developed around the melody presented by the solo alto in the aria. The joining of the aria and chorus
in this way seems to depart from the basic formal plan established in the previous two sections (recitative--aria--chorus), but in so doing it heightens the
contrast that follows since this section is substantially
longer than the previous two.
12.) Chorus, For unto us a child is born, G major, Isaiah 9, 6 (Sourcebook score page 66) This is another example of a duet chorus, and again the source for the music is one of
Handel's Italian duet cantatas. The original text for this cantata was "No,
di voi non vo'fidarmi" which calls for a strong stress
on the first syllable. Putting the text "For unto us
a child is born" to the same music thus results in a
strong accent on a word that is less important than the rest
of the phrase. Such oddities of word accent are found elsewhere in
13.) Pifa (Orchestra), C major (Sourcebook score page 78) This movement serves to divide Part I into two distinct sections.
Often this movement is performed with mutes, providing a distinct instrumental color. The string parts move in parallel motion and in octaves, above a droning bass, with long held pedal tones. The title "Pifa" surely comes from
the Italian piffaro, a woodwind instrument, and pifferi, shepherd's bagpipes.
Yet Handel uses only stringed instruments here. How does the composer establish
a pastoral mood for the following without using woodwinds?
Notice how the character of this movement contrasts with the
14a.) Recitative (Soprano 1), There were shepherds abiding in the field, C major, Luke 2,
8 (Sourcebook score page 79) This is the first of four recitatives (nos. 14a to
16) sung by the soprano soloist (the first soprano in the version presented on this
recording). The first and third are secco recitatives while the second and fourth are accompagnato. Note the contrast between the accompanied and
secco recitatives. The accompaniment in the violins in the second and fourth recitatives suggests the
beating of the angel wings and gives a marvelous sense of
urgency to the message.
14b.) Recitative (Soprano 1), And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,
F major,Luke 2, 9 (Sourcebook score page 79)
17.) Chorus, Glory to God in the highest, D major, Luke 2, 14 (Sourcebook score page 84) The tension and anticipation that built up in the
previous four recitatives sung by the soprano is released in this chorus. We hear the trumpets for the first time in the work, and their shimmering
sound adds to the sense of arrival and affirmation in this
movement. Notice Handel's word painting as he uses the high voices and strings to depict the heavenly voices as they cry "Glory
to God" and the lower voices to depict "peace on
earth." The trumpets sound distant in this chorus and
they appear without their usual (earthly) counterpart, the
timpani: this is a heavenly chorus heard from on earth. Note
how Handel has the angels disappear at the end, as the strings
and the continuo reach the final cadence alone.
This is an example of an anthem chorus, a type that usually contains a mixture of both
homophonic and polyphonictextures, which alternate or contrast with each other throughout
the movement. There may be a contrasting section or sections
in which the voices divide and then recombine in different
ways. Identify the contrasting sections in this movement.
What is the texture of each section? And how does the instrumental music relate to the vocal parts?
18.) Aria (Soprano 1), Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, B flat major, Zechariah 9, 9-10 (Sourcebook score page 96) This aria is unusual in Messiah in that
it is a true da capo, but this is the case only for the first version of
the aria (version A in your score); in version B, which is in common time as opposed to the compound time of the first version, Handel recomposes the
return of the opening section of the aria. Notice the high
baroque style of the writing for the voice seen in the intricate, ornamentallines with their long strings of eighth notes (in version A, sixteenth notes in version B). Notice too the word painting for the word "rejoice" in jubilant,
long ornamented lines.
20.) Aria (Soprano 1), He shall feed his flock, B flat, Isaiah 40, 11
(Sourcebook score page 102) In other versions this aria is often shared between
the alto and soprano soloists, but here we have the original version of the piece
and the one that was heard in the opening night. The opening
ritornello strongly recalls the music and atmosphere of the
Pifa (no. 13).
21.) Disk 1, Track 13. Chorus, His yoke is easy, and his burthen is light, B flat
major, Matthew 11, 30 (Sourcebook score page 112) Another example of a duet chorus. The source for the musical material is the same
cantata that provided the inspiration for the earlier chorus
"And he shall purify."