Handel’s Messiah – Background information for set work George Frederic Handel, considered one of the greatest composers of the baroque period, he was born in Halle, Germany on February. 23, 1685. He died in London on April. 14, 1759, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Handel is best known for his English Oratorios, particularly the Messiah. Handel was distinguished for his musical ability from his earliest years, was sent to Berlin to study when he was 14, began his musical career as a performer at Hamburg in 1703 and produced his first opera in 1704.
He spent six years in Italy and cam, on invitation, to England in 1710, where he lived for almost 50 years. In England Handel continued to compose in the Italian style, but also absorbed the characteristics of English music, especially English coral music. Henry Purcell was a classical composer and musicians and was one of the leading musicians of the Baroque Period. Henry Purcell was born in London September. 12 1659 and died in 1695. Henrys father was a gentleman of the chapel-royal, and sang at the coronation of King Charles II of England.
Purcell was often considered England’s finest native composer, Purcell combined a great gift for lyrical melody with harmonic invention and mastery of counterpoint. He sang in the choir of the Chapel Royal until 1673 and became organist there in 1682. In 1677 he was appointed composer for the king’s band, and from 1679 until his death he was organist at Westminster Abbey. Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, Italy, on March 4, 1678 and died July 26, 1741, Vienna, Austria. Vivaldi had a great influence on the Baroque Period, Vivaldi was very productive in vocal and instrumental music, sacred and secular (nonreligious).
According to the latest research, he composed over seven hundred pieces—ranging from sonatas (instrumental compositions usually with three or four movements) and operas (musical dramas consisting of vocal and instrumental pieces) to concertos (musical compositions for one or two vocal performers set against a full orchestra). In his instrumental works he naturally favored the violin. He wrote the majority of his sonatas for one or two violins and thorough-bass. The meaning of the following terms: ORATORIO: Religious version of an opera. RECITATIVE: A cross between talking and singing.
Used to get the words across with the minimal amount of music. Used like narrators part. ARIA: Song for a soloist in an opera or oratorio. Could be Soprano, Alto, Tenor or Bass. CHORUS: A large group of singers in an opera or oratorio, usually performing several parts. Th chorus can be used to sum up the story so far. LIBRETTO: The text or words of a musical. In the 1730’s, peoples tastes started to change so Handel changed to writing oratorios which he made quite famous in the world of music. Handel’s oratorios are based on the English tradition of the Masque which was something between a play and an opera.
Although oratorios were about stories from the Old Testa,emt Handel liked to use dramatic stories from the bible. Almong many great oratorios that Handel wrote ‘Messiah’ is his most famous one. However it is different from his other oratorios in some ways. The words of Messiah were written by a librettist Charles Jennens. He chose several passages from the Bible and made a libretto, which he sent to Handel in 1741 (although people today often call the work “The Messiah”, both Handel and Jennens call it “Messiah” without the word “the”).
Handel immediately realized that a great work of music could be made from Jennens’ libretto. He thought that Jennens was a very clever person, and in his letters to him he calls the work “Your Oratorio Messiah”. Handel sat down in the front room of his house in Brook Street, London, and wrote the whole oratorio. The libretto of the ‘messiah’ is in three main parts the- birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Part 1- includes the prophecies foretelling the coming of the Messiah.
Part 2: The passion music of he suffering and crucifixion of Jesus – mainly the words from Old Testament Part 3: Tell of Jesus’ resurrection Nothing Handel ever wrote was as popular as the Messiah. Using Jennens’ libretto, Handel completed the entire musical score in only 24 days. The first performance of Messiah in Dublin was a huge success raising lots of money for charity. The term Baroque was derived from a Portuguese word meaning “a pearl of irregular shape. ” The Baroque was a period of artistic style that used a lot of detail to produce drama and tension.
The popularity and success of the Baroque style was encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, which had decided at the time of the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation that the arts should communicate religious themes in direct and emotional involvement. During the Baroque Era, the use of improvisation increased. This change was most important in instrumental music. However, as important as it was, improvisation caused problems when musicians attempted to understand and perform Baroque music accurately.
Basso continuo , or figured bass, was purely an instrumental concept. It is music that is played by one or more bass instruments and a keyboard instrument. Basso continuo gave bass parts an importance of their own in all areas of ensemble music. It is one of the most distinct features of the Baroque Era as a whole. The Baroque Era saw the continuation of all the instruments that were used during the Renaissance. During this period, there were mechanical and technological improvements to the instruments, and they started to develop into the instruments that we know today.
Another important development of the Baroque Era was the development of the violin family, which occurred at the end of the 1600s. Keyboard instruments were used for basso continuo parts and solo music. They were involved in a major portion of the instrumental literature of the time. During this era, three types of keyboards existed; the clavichord, the organ, and the harpsichord. Clavichord The clavichord produced sound by striking a metal wedge striking against a string when a key was pressed. The sound quality was weak, but the instrument was able to produce some dynamics.
It was mainly used in Germany and usually played as a solo instrument or in a small ensemble. Organ The Baroque organ was more powerful than its predecessor, the Renaissance organ. Organs were mostly associated with church music and used as solo instruments or accompaniment instruments. A vast growth in organ literature took place during this period. Harpsichord The Harpsichord was very popular and was known by various names in different parts of Europe. The harpsichord usually had two manuals or keyboards. It’s tone was produced with quills which plucked the strings mechanically every time a key was pressed.
The tone of the harpsichord was stronger than the clavichord but it could not produce dynamics. The harpsichord was the main instrument employed in the basso continuo. It is one of the most distinctive sounds of the Baroque Era and was the most favored instrument in solo music. String Instruments The principal string instruments of the 1600s were the viol family. The new violin family of instruments slowly replaced them. The violin soon became the new leader of the stringed instruments, and its sound became the dominant timbre in late Baroque ensemble music.
Wind Instruments During the Baroque era the principal woodwind instruments used were the bassoon, flute, and oboe. Older end-blown recorders were still in use during the late Baroque period. The transverse flute started to become a common solo and ensemble instrument. Brass instruments such as horns, trumpets, and trombones were used in large ensembles, but rarely as solo instruments. Percussion Instruments Timpani were the only percussion instruments in common use at this time. They were used sparingly in the orchestra.