Oratorio in the First Half of 18th Century

Topics: Oratorio, George Frideric Handel, Opera Pages: 5 (1724 words) Published: November 19, 2006

Within the baroque era, concerning the genre of vocal music, religious music cannot be overlooked as well as the opera. In this age, not only liturgical music which is from the Middle Ages such as the Mass music and Magnificat, but peculiar music of baroques such oratorio and the church cantata were also invented, while there was antagonism between Catholic and Protestant. Even in the music for liturgical of the church, it tended to opera or a dramatic style. It was the feature of the Catholic Church music of the baroque period in Italy. During the Baroque period, people saw the invention of a new music form: the oratorio in the 17th century in Europe. The oratorio has a long and profound history since Italian Renaissance. In this essay, I will be answering question number two: Explain briefly the meaning of this musical term oratorio and give an account of the most popular and arguably greatest oratorio of the first half of the eighteenth century.


Oratorio was born in Italy at about the same time as opera. This word ¡®oratorio¡¯ originally comes from the Latin word for oratory or prayer room which were many in the Rome of that time. It is originally religious music of the Roman Catholic Church. However, by using so many words from the Bible and fitting various music, the rich description was loved by people. The first oratorios were performed at St. Philip Neri¡¯s Oratory in Rome in February 1600. St. Philip Neri used to stage scenes from the scriptures in the Oratory of his church in Florence, the Santa Maria in Vallicella. These productions came to be known as ¡®oratorios¡¯. At first, oratorios were very similar to operas. They have their roots deep in the middle ages. ¡®Their forbears were the mystery and passion plays and portrayals of the legends of the saints. In these plays, in addition to the more or less historical figures, there were symbolic ones such as death, beauty, good works, faith, mammon, pride, jealousy, and curiosity.¡¯ Oratorio resembles the opera in some points. For example, they were made up of recitatives, arias and choruses. They are performed by vocal music and orchestras. The differences between opera and oratorio are that an opera is made up of three components: text, music, and staging but then the oratorio limits itself to the first two. A typical oratorio does not have the feature of performing with scenery, costumes, or stage business but in fact including action. So, some people define oratorio that ¡®Oratorio is opera without theater.¡¯ The main difference was that an oratorio was based on a sacred story, usually taken from the Bible. So, most oratorios have biblical themes and it can include such topics as the creation of the world and the life of Jesus. On the other hand, secular oratorios which are based on themes from Greek and Roman mythology were written by a number of composers. Whether religious or secular, the theme of an oratorio included biblical elements. 17th and 18th century was the peak period for composition of oratorios. So many masterpieces were composed by many composers. Most baroque opera composers are composing the oratorio for the similarity of the form. The first master of the oratorio was Giacomo Carissimi (Italy; 1605-1674) and the main composers of oratorio in the 17th century were Carissimi and Schutz (Germany; 1585-1672). However, with an appearance of George Handel (Germany; 1685-1759), the oratorio thrived anew. The greatest oratorios of the Baroque period were composed during the first half of the 18th century, with words in English, by Handel. During the 1820s in London, oratorios had become the vogue musical form, with Handel¡¯s oratorio leading the way. For some time religious musical festivals had been held in many of the English provinces and in London.


There are so many masterpiece oratorios in the world ¨C whether Mozart¡¯s, Verdi¡¯s, or Dvorak¡¯s Requiem, Beethoven¡¯s Missa Solemnis,...

Bibliography: Pahlen, Kurt, The world of the oratorio, (Aldershot : Scolar, 1990.)¡¡
Ewen, David, The Complete book of classical music, (London : Hale, 1989, c1965.)
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¡®History of sacred music¡¯< http://2style.net/misa/kogaku/early027.html > (25 December 2005)
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