Early Baroque Oratorio Essay

Early Baroque Oratorio Essay

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Early Baroque oratorio appeared in two forms: The Latin Oratorio and the Oratorio Volgare, which used Italian texts. Based on a religious theme or biblical text, the concept of oratorio had its early origins in the 1540s, with the efforts by St. Philip Neri to educate and convert common people through spiritual exercises held in a prayer hall (Italian Oratory). These exercises, which at first were limited to sermons, prayer, hymn singing, and vernacular dramatizations and discussions of the Bible, soon grew into a community of secular priests called the Congregation of the Oratory, founded in Rome in 1575. From around 1600 onwards, music started permeating the oratorio with techniques such as the recitative and the aria with basso continuo. Eventually, these musical dramatizations (oratorios) evolved into something like opera without costumes or staged action. Because oratorios were the only musical event permitted during the Lent season, they soon became the musical outlet for the growing Baroque public enamored with opera.

The Latin Oratorio, which included the roles of narrator and chorus in addition to the central characters of the plot, reached its peak in the works of the Roman composer Giacomo Carissimi, who wrote and conducted oratorios at the Oratorio del Santissimo Crocifisso (Oratory of the Most Holy Crucifix) in Rome. His finest oratorio, Historia di Jephte (The Story of Jephtah) (composed c.1649), is based on the Old Testament story from the Book of Judges (Judges 11:28-38). In this work, we can hear the narrator, Historicus, sung by a tenor, although at different points in the oratorio he is sung by different soloists or combination of voices; the chorus, which intervenes to amplify the drama; Jephtah, the main ch...


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...sages where one vocal part is featured in monodic style.

Also evident in this movement is Handel's inventive use of word-painting exemplified in the vocal parts moving away from each other a have gone astray, the twisting vocal lines at we have turned, the insistence at the words every one to his own way, and the dramatic minor-key ending at and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

When Handel died in England in 1759, he was given a state funeral, and buried in Westminster Abbey. It would be almost 150 years before another composer of prominence appeared in England. What did not die with Handel, however, was his style. The homophonic texture of his choruses, the stately character of his instrumental works, and the cosmopolitan quality of all of his music would be the blueprint followed by the next generation of composers, including Bach's sons.


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