Question on Oratorios

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lennygoran
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Question on Oratorios

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jul 18, 2016 5:05 am

I was wondering about whether I had ever seen an oratorio with dancing in it-I wondered if it ever could work-couldn't think of a performance that was an actual oratorio with dancing going on-we just saw Dido and Aeneas a while ago but that's classified as an opera although isn't it also done oratorio style? Anyway I do wonder if an oratorio could be done with appropriate dancing and be successful--can anyone think of an example--the name Mark Morris springs to mind. Went to wiki and quote this fwiw: Regards, Len

An oratorio (Italian pronunciation: [oraˈtɔːrjo]) is a large musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists.[1] Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias. However, opera is musical theatre, while oratorio is strictly a concert piece—though oratorios are sometimes staged as operas, and operas are sometimes presented in concert form. In an oratorio there is generally little or no interaction between the characters, and no props or elaborate costumes. A particularly important difference is in the typical subject matter of the text. Opera tends to deal with history and mythology, including age-old devices of romance, deception, and murder, whereas the plot of an oratorio often deals with sacred topics, making it appropriate for performance in the church. Protestant composers took their stories from the Bible, while Catholic composers looked to the lives of saints, as well as to Biblical topics. Oratorios became extremely popular in early 17th-century Italy partly because of the success of opera and the Catholic Church's prohibition of spectacles during Lent. Oratorios became the main choice of music during that period for opera audiences.

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 18, 2016 5:10 am

Len, I have never been more certain of anything than I am that only you can say whether you have seen an oratorio with dancing in it. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jul 18, 2016 5:20 am

jbuck919 wrote:Len, I have never been more certain of anything than I am that only you can say whether you have seen an oratorio with dancing in it. :)
Still with my memory that may not be the case. :( But what about you-should oratorios always be just singing with nothing to distract you like acting or dancing or even scenery? Regards, Len

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 18, 2016 5:42 am

lennygoran wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Len, I have never been more certain of anything than I am that only you can say whether you have seen an oratorio with dancing in it. :)
Still with my memory that may not be the case. :( But what about you-should oratorios always be just singing with nothing to distract you like acting or dancing or even scenery? Regards, Len
Oratorios are sometimes staged. I hate to land the sandbag of Peter Sellars on you, but musically, this classic performance from Handel's Theodora is staged. Most of the numbers from that production are on YouTube, but I don't recall seeing any dancing. If you hate it, well, just close your eyes and dream with me.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jul 18, 2016 5:59 am

jbuck919 wrote:I hate to land the sandbag of Peter Sellars on you, but musically, this classic performance from Handel's Theodora is staged. Most of the numbers from that production are on YouTube, but I don't recall seeing any dancing.
Thanks, while I've heard of Theodora I've never seen it or for that matter ever heard the music before-I'll have to spend some more time with this work. Regards, Len

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by John F » Mon Jul 18, 2016 8:31 am


There's no such thing as an "oratorio-style" performance. Oratorios are concert works like symphonies and concertos; operas are sometimes done in concert, from "Dido and Aeneas" to "Tristan und Isolde," but that doesn't transform them into oratorios.

Berlioz's "Damnation of Faust" is a concert work, in effect an oratorio. It's sometimes performed in the theatre as if it were an opera, and in such performances there's likely to be some dancing in the dance of the sylphs and the minuet of the will-o'-the-wisps. Also, nowadays ballet choreotraphers have been staging concert works as ballets, including Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" and even Bach's Matthew Passion.
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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by Beckmesser » Mon Jul 18, 2016 9:43 am

Is Handel's setting of Milton's poetry in L'Allegro ed Il Penseroso considered an oratorio?

Mark Morris choreographed a dance performance to Handel's score many years ago. It was recently captured on video. I happen to like it very much.

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:56 am

John F wrote:
Berlioz's "Damnation of Faust" is a concert work, in effect an oratorio. It's sometimes performed in the theatre as if it were an opera, and in such performances there's likely to be some dancing in the dance of the sylphs and the minuet of the will-o'-the-wisps. Also, nowadays ballet choreotraphers have been staging concert works as ballets, including Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" and even Bach's Matthew Passion.
Thanks for the clarification-not being one who has gone to oratorios do you recall any with dancing or done as an opera that you really enjoyed--any you hated? Regards, Len

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:58 am

Beckmesser wrote:Is Handel's setting of Milton's poetry in L'Allegro ed Il Penseroso considered an oratorio?
I went to wiki which says: "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato ("The Cheerful, the Thoughtful, and the Moderate Man";[1] HWV 55) is a pastoral ode by George Frideric Handel based on the poetry of John Milton." Regards, Len

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by John F » Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:33 am

The ode is not a musical form but a kind of poetry. "L'Allegro" is an extended nondramatic vocal work for concert performance; I guess it could best be pigeon-holed as a cantata - quite a long cantata. Because of its length, it could also be called an oratorio, but most oratorios have a dramatic or narrative text which "L'Allegro" does not.
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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by slofstra » Sat Jul 23, 2016 4:34 pm

lennygoran wrote:
John F wrote:
Berlioz's "Damnation of Faust" is a concert work, in effect an oratorio. It's sometimes performed in the theatre as if it were an opera, and in such performances there's likely to be some dancing in the dance of the sylphs and the minuet of the will-o'-the-wisps. Also, nowadays ballet choreotraphers have been staging concert works as ballets, including Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" and even Bach's Matthew Passion.
Thanks for the clarification-not being one who has gone to oratorios do you recall any with dancing or done as an opera that you really enjoyed--any you hated? Regards, Len
Not exactly dancing, and not exactly oratorio, but Rattle and the BPO's recent staging of the St. Matthew Passion, where the singers act and move about on the stage, was incredibly moving.

I would endorse the review from the BPO site, although I faintly recollect Rattle using the expression "single most important thing" on several other occasions.

"Sir Simon Rattle was in no doubt: the performance of the St Matthew Passion which he realised together with the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Rundfunkchor Berlin in 2010 was for him “the single most important thing we ever did here”. Critics around the world agreed. They praised the semi-staged “ritualization” by American star-director Peter Sellars, as well as the outstanding musical performances by the soloists, including Magdalena Kožená, Christian Gerhaher, Thomas Quasthoff and Mark Padmore as the Evangelist. (BPO web site)"

Video trailer:
https://www.berliner-philharmoniker-rec ... ssion.html
(In comparison to the trailer, in the complete performance, you get more from the actual vocalists and less vocal pantomime from the conductor. Why they show Rattle doing this is beyond me.)

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jul 23, 2016 6:02 pm

Sorry but I am a St. Matthew Passion purist having actually seen the Thomaskirche and been able to visualize the incredibly complicated manner in which it was put on. It is one of the works mentioned by Brahms when he laughed off comparison with the gods (his own word) who came before him.

In the first place, it requires two complete choirs with a separate set of soloists. One of them was stationed at the front of the church, the other in the choir loft. Then there was a chorus of boys who only sang the descant in the opening chorus. All this while Bach had to conduct it all, including an orchestra, from a single seat where he was presumably playing the continuo. It is as it stands a work of impossible artistry. Is this not enough?

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There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jserraglio » Sat Jul 23, 2016 6:09 pm


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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jserraglio » Sat Jul 23, 2016 7:50 pm

From Ency Britannica — The earliest surviving oratorio is Rappresentazione di anima et di corpo (The Representation of Soul and Body) by Emilio del Cavaliere, produced in 1600 with dramatic action, including ballet.


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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jul 23, 2016 8:26 pm

That's very difficult. Sometimes we have to override even the Britannica. (Not the famous 1911 edition in which all the musical articles are by Donald Francis Tovey.) The earliest surviving oratorio per se is the magnificent Monteverdi Vespers. I am sorry that it includes no dance, but M. also wrote the three most important early operas.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by John F » Sat Jul 23, 2016 11:22 pm

"Rappresentazione di anima et di corpo" is not an oratorio but a theatrical work, staged as such by its composer. Its first performances were in the Oratorio dei Filippini, a venue for musical and other events at the time, which eventually gave gave the musical form its name. Nor is "Rappresentazione" an opera, as it's not a dramatic work. It's sui generis; its composer called it a "representation." In those early days, when these genres were taking form, they weren't called operas or oratorios; Monteverdi's "L'Orfeo," unquestionably an opera, is a "fable in music." It's we who classify them according to their characteristics and performance history.

Monteverdi's Vespers isn't an oratorio either but a liturgical work in Latin.
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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jul 24, 2016 12:39 am

John F wrote: Monteverdi's Vespers isn't an oratorio either but a liturgical work in Latin.
No, that is not true. Trust me on this one. The Vespers does not correspond to any real liturgical service. There is extensive scholarship on this matter. It is irrelevant that it is in Latin. So is some of Bach as well as many other composers of the common practice period. The Vespers is beyond a doubt the first oratorio. In the following, Monteverdi made the extraordinary decision to set it for a tenor when the character speaking is female.


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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by John F » Sun Jul 24, 2016 1:06 am

Sorry, John, I don't trust you on this one, unless you can show me that despite its title, Monteverdi's Vespers was intended to be unusable in the vespers service at the time it was composed, and could therefore only be performed in a secular concert as an oratorio. I know very little about church ritual, but I see in the Wikipedia article on vespers that the text of Monteverdi's work begins with the words with which the vespers service is supposed to begin, and ends as the service is supposed to end with the Magnificat. It's certainly on a very grand scale for a church service, but then, so are Bach's Passions.

Out of curiosity, which works by Bach are composed to Latin texts, whether or not from the liturgy, yet not intended or suitable for liturgical use?
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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jul 24, 2016 1:43 am

John F wrote:Sorry, John, I don't trust you on this one, unless you can show me that despite its title, Monteverdi's Vespers was intended to be unusable in the vespers service at the time it was composed, and could therefore only be performed in a secular concert as an oratorio. I know very little about church ritual, but I see in the Wikipedia article on vespers that the text of Monteverdi's work begins with the words with which the vespers service is supposed to begin, and ends as the service is supposed to end with the Magnificat. It's certainly on a very grand scale for a church service, but then, so are Bach's Passions.

Out of curiosity, which works by Bach are composed to Latin texts, whether or not from the liturgy, yet not intended or suitable for liturgical use?
I have learned much from you and continue to do so, but you will never be my match with regard to church ritual. I am well aware of the basic form of the Vespers, but also about the many discrepancies. As for Bach, you must be kidding. We can start with the Mass in B minor. Bach was an excellent latinist and also composed parody masses based on his cantatas. The big mass is very problematic. He evidently intended it for liturgical use while at the same time applying for a job in Dresden, but it was never made so. But the Missa Solemnis was also intended liturgically, for the enthronement of an archbishop, but never used that way. There is no doubt in my mind that the Monteverdi Vespers were never intended for liturgical use.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jserraglio » Sun Jul 24, 2016 6:04 am

John F wrote:"Rappresentazione di anima et di corpo" is not an oratorio but a theatrical work, staged as such by its composer. .
If Britannica calls it oratorio, I'll defer to their expertise, s'il vous plait. I suspect oratorio was not any more precisely defined in 1600 than it is today. Interestingly, this very early whatchamacallit contained ballet.

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by lennygoran » Sun Jul 24, 2016 7:38 am

jserraglio wrote: If Britannica calls it oratorio, I'll defer to their expertise, s'il vous plait. I suspect oratorio was not any more precisely defined in 1600 than it is today. Interestingly, this very early whatchamacallit contained ballet.
I found this article which I admit I don't fully understand-I don't see why some of the oratorios couldn't be turned into opera type productions-I'd try some of them. Regards, Len

The Oratorios of Handel

Background

The Italian Baroque oratorio was hardly anything other than an opera on a sacred subject, presented in concert instead of on the stage. This conception is an essential element of Handel's oratorios. Most of the arias in these works differ in no important respects -- neither in form, musical style, nature of the musical ideas, nor technique of expressing affects -- from the arias in his operas. As in the operas also, the mood of each aria is usually prepared, and the aria introduced, by a preceding recitative. But there are alterations and additions which transform the oratorios into something different from the conventional 18th-century opera.

Librettos

Fundamental is the fact that Handel's oratorio librettos were in English. The Italian used in opera undoubtedly had snob appeal for London listeners, most of whom, if pressed, could hardly have translated a dozen words of that language without help. The use of English was gratifying to the middle class; it also meant that at least some of the absurdities and conceits which were part of the tissue of the usual opera libretto must be renounced, since they could no longer be decently concealed under the cloak of a foreign tongue. Even more important, a new kind of subject matter had to be found. Classical mythology and ancient history were all very acceptable for upper-class audiences who, whatever the actual state of their education, felt obliged to pretend some acquaintance with such matters.

The entire storehouse of both history and mythology known to middle-class Protestant England in the 18th century was the Bible, or, more accurately, the Old Testament, including the apocryphal books. All of Handel's sacred oratorios, and especially his most popular ones, were based on Old Testament stories (even "Messiah" has more text from the Old than from the New Testament, except in it third part). It was impossible for English audiences in an era of prosperity and expanding empire not to feel a kinship with the chosen people of old whose heroes triumphed by the special favor of Jehovah.

Not all of Handel's oratorios are on sacred subjects. Some, like "Semele" and "Hercules," are mythological. Others like "Alexander's Feast," the "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day," and Handel's last composition, "The Triumph of Time and Truth," are allegorical.

The arrangement of the libretto varies: "Susanna," "Theodora," and "Joseph" are practically straight operas; most of the Biblical oratorios stay close to the original narrative, but the Biblical text was rewritten in recitatives (sometimes prose, sometimes rhymed verse), arias, and choruses; "Israel in Egypt," on the other hand, tells the story of the exodus of the Israelites entirely in the words of scripture. "Messiah" also has a purely Scriptural text, but is the least typical of all Handel's oratorios in that it tells no story. It is a series of contemplations of the Christian idea of redemption, starting with Old Testament prophecies and going through the life of Christ to His final triumph.

Function and Form

The oratorios are not to be regarded as church music. They are intended for the concert hall, and are much closer to the theatre than to the church service. Handel more than once was chosen to be the official musical spokesman on occasions of national moment. The oratorio "Judas Maccabaeus," like the "Occasional Oratorio" of the previous year, was designed to honor the Duke of Cumberland for his victory over the Jacobite rebels at Culloden. But even where there was no immediate connection with a particular occasion, many of Handel's oratorios struck a responsive patriotic note with the British public.

Handel, like most 18th-century composers, occasionally incorporated in his compositions themes, sections, or even whole movements from other works, sometimes literally but more often with changes and improvements. Most of his borrowings were from his own earlier works, but a considerable number were from other composers; three duets and eleven of the 28 choruses of "Israel in Egypt," for example, were taken in whole or in part from the music of others, while four choruses were arrangements from earlier works by Handel himself. Further borrowings, although not on such an extensive scale, have been traced in many of Handel's compositions written after 1737. It has been conjectured that he resorted to this when he was beginning a new work, particularly after 1737, when he had suffered a paralytic stroke and nervous collapse.

Beyond question the most important innovation in the oratorios was Handel's use of the chorus. To be sure, the chorus had had its place in the Italian oratorios of Carissimi, and Handel's early training had made him familiar with the Lutheran choral music of Germany as well as the characteristic combination of the chorus with orchestra and soloists in the southern German Catholic centers; but the English choral tradition impressed him most profoundly.

Handel's Choral Style

The monumental character of Handel's choral style was particularly appropriate to oratorios in which emphasis is on communal rather than individual expression as in the opera aria. Handel often used choruses in the oratorios where in opera an aria would appear -- as commentary or reflection on a situation (a quality similar to that of the ancient Greek drama chorus). Handel's oratorio chorus also participates in the action ("Judas Maccabaeus"), is an element in incidental scenes ("Solomon"), and even narrates ("Israel in Egypt").

Pictorial and affective musical symbolism is one of the most conspicuous and endearing features of Handel's choral writing. The chorus in "Messiah" sings: "all we like sheep have gone astray (diverging melodic lines); we have turned (a rapidly twisting, turning figure that never gets away from its starting point) every one to his own way" (stubborn insistence on a single repeated note). Passages such as these reveal Handel the dramatist, the unerring master of grandiose effects. He is one of the great composers who know how to write well for a chorus.

His style is simpler than Bach's, less finely chiseled, less subjective, less consistently contrapuntal. He: 1) alternates passages in open fugal texture with solid blocks of harmony; 2) sets a melodic line in sustained notes against one in quicker rhythm. 3) Everything is planned so as to lie well within the most effective range of the voices; 4) at points where he designs the maximum fullness of choral sound, especially, Handel brings the four parts tightly together, the basses and tenors high, the sopranos and altos in the middle register. This grouping is often used in the characteristically Handelian closing cadences: a) an allegro chorus climaxing on an inconclusive chord; b) a tense moment of silence; c) and then the final cadential chords in three or four splendid sonorous adagio harmonies, in which the chorus, in one great outburst of sound, gathers up the whole meaning of everything that has come before.

Works

La Resurrezione (1708)
Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739)
Israel in Egypt (1739)
Messiah (1742)
Joseph (1743)
Semele (1744)
Hercules (1744)
Occasional Oratorio (1746)
Judas Maccabaeus (1747)
Susanna (1748)
Theodora (1749)
Solomon (1749)
Jephtha (1751)
Alexander's Feast
Saul
Joshua
The Triumph of Time and Truth (1757)

http://www.lcsproductions.net/MusicHist ... torio.html

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by John F » Sun Jul 24, 2016 8:10 am

jbuck919 wrote:There is no doubt in my mind that the Monteverdi Vespers were never intended for liturgical use.
It should be possible to find out. I've never focused on Monteverdi, and the only book I have about him is Leo Schrade's of 1950; my only recording of the Vespers, Oiseau-Lyre of about that vintage, has no notes, just the texts. But I do have the second edition of the New Grove. It lists the Vespers under "Sacred and Devotional" works and tells me that the Vespers were dedicated to Pope Paul V and were published in a collection of religious works titled "Sanctissimae Virgini Missa senis vocibus Ad Ecclesiarum Choros Ac Vespere pluribus decantandae cum nonnullis sacris concentibus."

The author of the New Grove article, Geoffrey Chew (don't know him), says "The purpose of the work has received extensive discussion...and is still not quite settled; broadly, Monteverdi seems to have published the collection in 1610 as a compositional portfolio to demonstrate mastery in a variety of contemporary church styles, and the work, or part of it, was very possibly originally used for the solemn Vespers sung at the inauguration by Vincenzo Gonzago, at Mantua in 1608, of a new order of chivalry in honour of Christ the Redeemer." He describes Monteverdi's Vespers as "in effect a portmanteau of several Vespers settings, which make use of a variety of styles including the most modern. Monteverdi provided music for a celebration of Vespers accompanied by virtuoso instrumentalists as well as one accompanied by the organ alone, with two separate settings of the Magnificat corresponding to these two possibilities."

The dedication to the pope ties in with a trip to Rome that Monteverdi made in 1610, seeking a grant to support his sons' seminary education. The published anthology of religious music, dedicated and to be presented to the pope, was presumably to establish his bona fides as a contributing creative servant of the church. He didn't get the grant.

From all this I believe you may be right that the complete "Vespro della beata Vergine," as published by Monteverdi and performed today, was not meant for use as a whole in a church service. But parts of it were so used, and nothing in my reading tells me that the other parts were unsuitable for such use - at least, not in the early 17th century when the music was written. Surely Monteverdi would not have put under the pope's nose (sorry!) evidence that he, Monteverdi, couldn't write proper church music, not when courting the pope's favor and asking for money. What is lacking in my sources is any suggestion that Monteverdi intended the Vespers for performance in a secular concert - that is, as an oratorio. Amy reason to think he did? Or that we today should classify it as an oratorio, regardless of Monteverdi's intentions? I don't think so.
jbuck919 wrote:
John F wrote:Out of curiosity, which works by Bach are composed to Latin texts, whether or not from the liturgy, yet not intended or suitable for liturgical use?
As for Bach, you must be kidding. We can start with the Mass in B minor. Bach was an excellent latinist and also composed parody masses based on his cantatas. The big mass is very problematic. He evidently intended it for liturgical use while at the same time applying for a job in Dresden, but it was never made so. But the Missa Solemnis was also intended liturgically, for the enthronement of an archbishop, but never used that way.
Well, of course I know the Mass in B minor, but you yourself say it was intended for liturgical use, so it's not an example of what I asked about. As for those parody masses, which I don't know, are they not also liturgically OK? If not, then why on earth did Bach waste his time on them? It's not as if he didn't have plenty to do for the actual church services in Leipzig for which he was hired and paid, and for the camerata concerts and his many keyboard works.
Last edited by John F on Sun Jul 24, 2016 2:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by maestrob » Sun Jul 24, 2016 12:52 pm

IIRC, the MET staged Handel's Solomon starring Jon Vickers during the late 1980's. The production was staged to feature the aforementioned star tenor who, IMO, embarrassed himself tremendously.

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by John F » Sun Jul 24, 2016 2:14 pm

You remember 2/3 correctly. It was Vickers and it was Handel, but the piece was "Samson." And Alan Rich's review wasn't so bad:
Alan Rich wrote:One of the juiciest assignments for an operatic tenor isn't in an opera at all: it's the title role in George Frideric Handel's oratorio "Samson." Composed only weeks, after the completion of "Messiah" in 1741 and based on John Milton's epic "Samson Agonistes." Handel's 3 1/2 hour score tells, in majestic musical detail, the story of the fallen Israelite strongman. In aria after aria he bemoans his blindness and captivity, repulses attempts at reconciliation by the contrite Dalila, and heroically senses the return of faith and of the strength that will enable his final act of revenge. As a concert work, "Samson" is astonishing in its emotional breadth, but the story it tells is psychological, not physical: to stage it as an opera is to diminish, rather than enhance, the power of the music. Yet "Samson" triumphed at the Metropolitan Opera last week. but only thanks to Jon Vickers in the leading role.

At 59,the Canadian tenor is a volcanic force and seldom, if ever, in better voice than now. There's no mistaking the distinctive mixture of pathos and heroism, the vibrance that makes most other tenors sound like wimps. His great roles are the rough-cut heroes. outwardly strong but undone by cruel destinies: Britten's "Peter Grimes" an astounding performance, available on video disc, Siegmund in Wagner's "Ring" and Samson in both Handel's oratorio and Saint-Saens's faded opera. The voice doesn't merely deliver, It actually embodies the drama in Handel's music, now howling invective, now muted to a pure, insistent thread of prayerful tone. His English diction, which most singers butcher is an artwork in itself: he makes the artifice of Newburgh Hamilton's libretto extremely moving.

Despite Carol Vaness's radiant singing of "Let the bright Seraphim," "Samson's" best-known air, and the eloquent conducting of Julius Rudel, the evening rides on Vickers's shoulders alone.
John Francis

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by lennygoran » Sun Jul 24, 2016 3:04 pm

Is this clip from that Met performance-the you tube had lots of info on Vickers but not too much on this clip? I sure like the costume! :D Regards, Len


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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by John F » Sun Jul 24, 2016 3:35 pm

That's not from the Met; those performances were in 1986, "Samson" wasn't televised, and the conductor wasn't Franz Paul Decker but Julius Rudel. I've traced it to a Canadian Broadcasting Company telecast in 1984 of scenes with Vickers from four operas, fully staged. Seems to be all of Vickers's Samson that there is in film or video.
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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by lennygoran » Sun Jul 24, 2016 7:03 pm

John F wrote:That's not from the Met; those performances were in 1986, "Samson" wasn't televised, and the conductor wasn't Franz Paul Decker but Julius Rudel. I've traced it to a Canadian Broadcasting Company telecast in 1984 of scenes with Vickers from four operas, fully staged. Seems to be all of Vickers's Samson that there is in film or video.
Thanks for doing the tracing on this! Regards, Len

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jul 24, 2016 8:21 pm

lennygoran wrote:
jserraglio wrote: If Britannica calls it oratorio, I'll defer to their expertise, s'il vous plait. I suspect oratorio was not any more precisely defined in 1600 than it is today. Interestingly, this very early whatchamacallit contained ballet.
I found this article which I admit I don't fully understand-I don't see why some of the oratorios couldn't be turned into opera type productions-I'd try some of them. Regards, Len

The Oratorios of Handel

Background

The Italian Baroque oratorio was hardly anything other than an opera on a sacred subject, presented in concert instead of on the stage. This conception is an essential element of Handel's oratorios. Most of the arias in these works differ in no important respects -- neither in form, musical style, nature of the musical ideas, nor technique of expressing affects -- from the arias in his operas. As in the operas also, the mood of each aria is usually prepared, and the aria introduced, by a preceding recitative. But there are alterations and additions which transform the oratorios into something different from the conventional 18th-century opera.

Librettos

Fundamental is the fact that Handel's oratorio librettos were in English. The Italian used in opera undoubtedly had snob appeal for London listeners, most of whom, if pressed, could hardly have translated a dozen words of that language without help. The use of English was gratifying to the middle class; it also meant that at least some of the absurdities and conceits which were part of the tissue of the usual opera libretto must be renounced, since they could no longer be decently concealed under the cloak of a foreign tongue. Even more important, a new kind of subject matter had to be found. Classical mythology and ancient history were all very acceptable for upper-class audiences who, whatever the actual state of their education, felt obliged to pretend some acquaintance with such matters.

The entire storehouse of both history and mythology known to middle-class Protestant England in the 18th century was the Bible, or, more accurately, the Old Testament, including the apocryphal books. All of Handel's sacred oratorios, and especially his most popular ones, were based on Old Testament stories (even "Messiah" has more text from the Old than from the New Testament, except in it third part). It was impossible for English audiences in an era of prosperity and expanding empire not to feel a kinship with the chosen people of old whose heroes triumphed by the special favor of Jehovah.

Not all of Handel's oratorios are on sacred subjects. Some, like "Semele" and "Hercules," are mythological. Others like "Alexander's Feast," the "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day," and Handel's last composition, "The Triumph of Time and Truth," are allegorical.

The arrangement of the libretto varies: "Susanna," "Theodora," and "Joseph" are practically straight operas; most of the Biblical oratorios stay close to the original narrative, but the Biblical text was rewritten in recitatives (sometimes prose, sometimes rhymed verse), arias, and choruses; "Israel in Egypt," on the other hand, tells the story of the exodus of the Israelites entirely in the words of scripture. "Messiah" also has a purely Scriptural text, but is the least typical of all Handel's oratorios in that it tells no story. It is a series of contemplations of the Christian idea of redemption, starting with Old Testament prophecies and going through the life of Christ to His final triumph.

Function and Form

The oratorios are not to be regarded as church music. They are intended for the concert hall, and are much closer to the theatre than to the church service. Handel more than once was chosen to be the official musical spokesman on occasions of national moment. The oratorio "Judas Maccabaeus," like the "Occasional Oratorio" of the previous year, was designed to honor the Duke of Cumberland for his victory over the Jacobite rebels at Culloden. But even where there was no immediate connection with a particular occasion, many of Handel's oratorios struck a responsive patriotic note with the British public.

Handel, like most 18th-century composers, occasionally incorporated in his compositions themes, sections, or even whole movements from other works, sometimes literally but more often with changes and improvements. Most of his borrowings were from his own earlier works, but a considerable number were from other composers; three duets and eleven of the 28 choruses of "Israel in Egypt," for example, were taken in whole or in part from the music of others, while four choruses were arrangements from earlier works by Handel himself. Further borrowings, although not on such an extensive scale, have been traced in many of Handel's compositions written after 1737. It has been conjectured that he resorted to this when he was beginning a new work, particularly after 1737, when he had suffered a paralytic stroke and nervous collapse.

Beyond question the most important innovation in the oratorios was Handel's use of the chorus. To be sure, the chorus had had its place in the Italian oratorios of Carissimi, and Handel's early training had made him familiar with the Lutheran choral music of Germany as well as the characteristic combination of the chorus with orchestra and soloists in the southern German Catholic centers; but the English choral tradition impressed him most profoundly.

Handel's Choral Style

The monumental character of Handel's choral style was particularly appropriate to oratorios in which emphasis is on communal rather than individual expression as in the opera aria. Handel often used choruses in the oratorios where in opera an aria would appear -- as commentary or reflection on a situation (a quality similar to that of the ancient Greek drama chorus). Handel's oratorio chorus also participates in the action ("Judas Maccabaeus"), is an element in incidental scenes ("Solomon"), and even narrates ("Israel in Egypt").

Pictorial and affective musical symbolism is one of the most conspicuous and endearing features of Handel's choral writing. The chorus in "Messiah" sings: "all we like sheep have gone astray (diverging melodic lines); we have turned (a rapidly twisting, turning figure that never gets away from its starting point) every one to his own way" (stubborn insistence on a single repeated note). Passages such as these reveal Handel the dramatist, the unerring master of grandiose effects. He is one of the great composers who know how to write well for a chorus.

His style is simpler than Bach's, less finely chiseled, less subjective, less consistently contrapuntal. He: 1) alternates passages in open fugal texture with solid blocks of harmony; 2) sets a melodic line in sustained notes against one in quicker rhythm. 3) Everything is planned so as to lie well within the most effective range of the voices; 4) at points where he designs the maximum fullness of choral sound, especially, Handel brings the four parts tightly together, the basses and tenors high, the sopranos and altos in the middle register. This grouping is often used in the characteristically Handelian closing cadences: a) an allegro chorus climaxing on an inconclusive chord; b) a tense moment of silence; c) and then the final cadential chords in three or four splendid sonorous adagio harmonies, in which the chorus, in one great outburst of sound, gathers up the whole meaning of everything that has come before.

Works

La Resurrezione (1708)
Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739)
Israel in Egypt (1739)
Messiah (1742)
Joseph (1743)
Semele (1744)
Hercules (1744)
Occasional Oratorio (1746)
Judas Maccabaeus (1747)
Susanna (1748)
Theodora (1749)
Solomon (1749)
Jephtha (1751)
Alexander's Feast
Saul
Joshua
The Triumph of Time and Truth (1757)

http://www.lcsproductions.net/MusicHist ... torio.html
lennygoran wrote:
jserraglio wrote: If Britannica calls it oratorio, I'll defer to their expertise, s'il vous plait. I suspect oratorio was not any more precisely defined in 1600 than it is today. Interestingly, this very early whatchamacallit contained ballet.
I found this article which I admit I don't fully understand-I don't see why some of the oratorios couldn't be turned into opera type productions-I'd try some of them. Regards, Len

The Oratorios of Handel

Background

The Italian Baroque oratorio was hardly anything other than an opera on a sacred subject, presented in concert instead of on the stage. This conception is an essential element of Handel's oratorios. Most of the arias in these works differ in no important respects -- neither in form, musical style, nature of the musical ideas, nor technique of expressing affects -- from the arias in his operas. As in the operas also, the mood of each aria is usually prepared, and the aria introduced, by a preceding recitative. But there are alterations and additions which transform the oratorios into something different from the conventional 18th-century opera.

Librettos

Fundamental is the fact that Handel's oratorio librettos were in English. The Italian used in opera undoubtedly had snob appeal for London listeners, most of whom, if pressed, could hardly have translated a dozen words of that language without help. The use of English was gratifying to the middle class; it also meant that at least some of the absurdities and conceits which were part of the tissue of the usual opera libretto must be renounced, since they could no longer be decently concealed under the cloak of a foreign tongue. Even more important, a new kind of subject matter had to be found. Classical mythology and ancient history were all very acceptable for upper-class audiences who, whatever the actual state of their education, felt obliged to pretend some acquaintance with such matters.

The entire storehouse of both history and mythology known to middle-class Protestant England in the 18th century was the Bible, or, more accurately, the Old Testament, including the apocryphal books. All of Handel's sacred oratorios, and especially his most popular ones, were based on Old Testament stories (even "Messiah" has more text from the Old than from the New Testament, except in it third part). It was impossible for English audiences in an era of prosperity and expanding empire not to feel a kinship with the chosen people of old whose heroes triumphed by the special favor of Jehovah.

Not all of Handel's oratorios are on sacred subjects. Some, like "Semele" and "Hercules," are mythological. Others like "Alexander's Feast," the "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day," and Handel's last composition, "The Triumph of Time and Truth," are allegorical.

The arrangement of the libretto varies: "Susanna," "Theodora," and "Joseph" are practically straight operas; most of the Biblical oratorios stay close to the original narrative, but the Biblical text was rewritten in recitatives (sometimes prose, sometimes rhymed verse), arias, and choruses; "Israel in Egypt," on the other hand, tells the story of the exodus of the Israelites entirely in the words of scripture. "Messiah" also has a purely Scriptural text, but is the least typical of all Handel's oratorios in that it tells no story. It is a series of contemplations of the Christian idea of redemption, starting with Old Testament prophecies and going through the life of Christ to His final triumph.

Function and Form

The oratorios are not to be regarded as church music. They are intended for the concert hall, and are much closer to the theatre than to the church service. Handel more than once was chosen to be the official musical spokesman on occasions of national moment. The oratorio "Judas Maccabaeus," like the "Occasional Oratorio" of the previous year, was designed to honor the Duke of Cumberland for his victory over the Jacobite rebels at Culloden. But even where there was no immediate connection with a particular occasion, many of Handel's oratorios struck a responsive patriotic note with the British public.

Handel, like most 18th-century composers, occasionally incorporated in his compositions themes, sections, or even whole movements from other works, sometimes literally but more often with changes and improvements. Most of his borrowings were from his own earlier works, but a considerable number were from other composers; three duets and eleven of the 28 choruses of "Israel in Egypt," for example, were taken in whole or in part from the music of others, while four choruses were arrangements from earlier works by Handel himself. Further borrowings, although not on such an extensive scale, have been traced in many of Handel's compositions written after 1737. It has been conjectured that he resorted to this when he was beginning a new work, particularly after 1737, when he had suffered a paralytic stroke and nervous collapse.

Beyond question the most important innovation in the oratorios was Handel's use of the chorus. To be sure, the chorus had had its place in the Italian oratorios of Carissimi, and Handel's early training had made him familiar with the Lutheran choral music of Germany as well as the characteristic combination of the chorus with orchestra and soloists in the southern German Catholic centers; but the English choral tradition impressed him most profoundly.

Handel's Choral Style

The monumental character of Handel's choral style was particularly appropriate to oratorios in which emphasis is on communal rather than individual expression as in the opera aria. Handel often used choruses in the oratorios where in opera an aria would appear -- as commentary or reflection on a situation (a quality similar to that of the ancient Greek drama chorus). Handel's oratorio chorus also participates in the action ("Judas Maccabaeus"), is an element in incidental scenes ("Solomon"), and even narrates ("Israel in Egypt").

Pictorial and affective musical symbolism is one of the most conspicuous and endearing features of Handel's choral writing. The chorus in "Messiah" sings: "all we like sheep have gone astray (diverging melodic lines); we have turned (a rapidly twisting, turning figure that never gets away from its starting point) every one to his own way" (stubborn insistence on a single repeated note). Passages such as these reveal Handel the dramatist, the unerring master of grandiose effects. He is one of the great composers who know how to write well for a chorus.

His style is simpler than Bach's, less finely chiseled, less subjective, less consistently contrapuntal. He: 1) alternates passages in open fugal texture with solid blocks of harmony; 2) sets a melodic line in sustained notes against one in quicker rhythm. 3) Everything is planned so as to lie well within the most effective range of the voices; 4) at points where he designs the maximum fullness of choral sound, especially, Handel brings the four parts tightly together, the basses and tenors high, the sopranos and altos in the middle register. This grouping is often used in the characteristically Handelian closing cadences: a) an allegro chorus climaxing on an inconclusive chord; b) a tense moment of silence; c) and then the final cadential chords in three or four splendid sonorous adagio harmonies, in which the chorus, in one great outburst of sound, gathers up the whole meaning of everything that has come before.

Works

La Resurrezione (1708)
Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739)
Israel in Egypt (1739)
Messiah (1742)
Joseph (1743)
Semele (1744)
Hercules (1744)
Occasional Oratorio (1746)
Judas Maccabaeus (1747)
Susanna (1748)
Theodora (1749)
Solomon (1749)
Jephtha (1751)
Alexander's Feast
Saul
Joshua
The Triumph of Time and Truth (1757)

http://www.lcsproductions.net/MusicHist ... torio.html
John F wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:There is no doubt in my mind that the Monteverdi Vespers were never intended for liturgical use.
It should be possible to find out. I've never focused on Monteverdi, and the only book I have about him is Leo Schrade's of 1950; my only recording of the Vespers, Oiseau-Lyre of about that vintage, has no notes, just the texts. But I do have the second edition of the New Grove. It lists the Vespers under "Sacred and Devotional" works and tells me that the Vespers were dedicated to Pope Paul V and were published in a collection of religious works titled "Sanctissimae Virgini Missa senis vocibus Ad Ecclesiarum Choros Ac Vespere pluribus decantandae cum nonnullis sacris concentibus."

The author of the New Grove article, Geoffrey Chew (don't know him), says "The purpose of the work has received extensive discussion...and is still not quite settled; broadly, Monteverdi seems to have published the collection in 1610 as a compositional portfolio to demonstrate mastery in a variety of contemporary church styles, and the work, or part of it, was very possibly originally used for the solemn Vespers sung at the inauguration by Vincenzo Gonzago, at Mantua in 1608, of a new order of chivalry in honour of Christ the Redeemer." He describes Monteverdi's Vespers as "in effect a portmanteau of several Vespers settings, which make use of a variety of styles including the most modern. Monteverdi provided music for a celebration of Vespers accompanied by virtuoso instrumentalists as well as one accompanied by the organ alone, with two separate settings of the Magnificat corresponding to these two possibilities."

The dedication to the pope ties in with a trip to Rome that Monteverdi made in 1610, seeking a grant to support his sons' seminary education. The published anthology of religious music, dedicated and to be presented to the pope, was presumably to establish his bona fides as a contributing creative servant of the church. He didn't get the grant.

From all this I believe you may be right that the complete "Vespro della beata Vergine," as published by Monteverdi and performed today, was not meant for use as a whole in a church service. But parts of it were so used, and nothing in my reading tells me that the other parts were unsuitable for such use - at least, not in the early 17th century when the music was written. Surely Monteverdi would not have put under the pope's nose (sorry!) evidence that he, Monteverdi, couldn't write proper church music, not when courting the pope's favor and asking for money. What is lacking in my sources is any suggestion that Monteverdi intended the Vespers for performance in a secular concert - that is, as an oratorio. Amy reason to think he did? Or that we today should classify it as an oratorio, regardless of Monteverdi's intentions? I don't think so.
jbuck919 wrote:
John F wrote:Out of curiosity, which works by Bach are composed to Latin texts, whether or not from the liturgy, yet not intended or suitable for liturgical use?
As for Bach, you must be kidding. We can start with the Mass in B minor. Bach was an excellent latinist and also composed parody masses based on his cantatas. The big mass is very problematic. He evidently intended it for liturgical use while at the same time applying for a job in Dresden, but it was never made so. But the Missa Solemnis was also intended liturgically, for the enthronement of an archbishop, but never used that way.
Well, of course I know the Mass in B minor, but you yourself say it was intended for liturgical use, so it's not an example of what I asked about. As for those parody masses, which I don't know, are they not also liturgically OK? If not, then why on earth did Bach waste his time on them? It's not as if he didn't have plenty to do for the actual church services in Leipzig for which he was hired and paid, and for the camerata concerts and his many keyboard works.
The actual liturgical service in Leipzig retained major elements of the ordinary of the Latin mass. Of course the cantata was the feature, but people in those days expected to spend upwards of two full hours in church. There is a CD hanging around somewhere that actually reproduces a complete Leipzig service, including an abbreviated version of a sermon (which would by itself have lasted at least an hour).


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

maestrob
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Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by maestrob » Sun Jul 24, 2016 10:28 pm

lennygoran wrote:
John F wrote:That's not from the Met; those performances were in 1986, "Samson" wasn't televised, and the conductor wasn't Franz Paul Decker but Julius Rudel. I've traced it to a Canadian Broadcasting Company telecast in 1984 of scenes with Vickers from four operas, fully staged. Seems to be all of Vickers's Samson that there is in film or video.
Thanks for doing the tracing on this! Regards, Len
Yes, thanks JohnF. I remember the performance because I had just done Solomon with St. Cecelia Chorus in Carnegie Hall, and that had piqued my interest in Handel's other works besides Messiah. I happened to notice that Rudel had left a Schirmer piano reduction on the podium, since there was no full score in print at the time of Samson to my knowledge. Nowadays those things are easier to find.

BTW: Vickers had done the role previously with Sarah Caldwell in Boston, and that had inspired him to approach the MET about singing the role there, again if memory serves.

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by John F » Sun Jul 24, 2016 11:35 pm

So how about those "parody" masses? Were they for liturgical use? You may believe you have answered this, but if so, I'm not smart enough to get it.
John Francis

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Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 25, 2016 12:15 am

John F wrote:So how about those "parody" masses? Were they for liturgical use? You may believe you have answered this, but if so, I'm not smart enough to get it.
What do you require that I have not offered? All Bach masses were intended for liturgical use. As you know, half of the B-minor mass is a parody from the cantatas. Only the Kyrie, Gloria, and part of the Credo are original. Then you must also know about the Magnificat, which is in Latin. We once had a semi-deranged member who was convinced that this was Bach's greatest work. It is excellent, but surely not that. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Location: New York, NY

Re: Question on Oratorios

Post by John F » Mon Jul 25, 2016 6:49 am

You said, in a message claiming that Monteverdi's Vespers are an oratorio, "The Vespers does not correspond to any real liturgical service. There is extensive scholarship on this matter. It is irrelevant that it is in Latin. So is some of Bach as well as many other composers of the common practice period."

I assumed that your comment on Bach was meant to be relevant to the oratorio discussion and asked, "Out of curiosity, which works by Bach are composed to Latin texts, whether or not from the liturgy, yet not intended or suitable for liturgical use?"

Several messages later you still haven't answered that question, but since you have spoken only of Bach's liturgical works in Latin, I suppose your answer is "None of them." Is that right? In which case I have to ask why you mentioned Bach at all.

Incidentally, as you know but others here may not, two works by Bach are actually called oratorios, the Christmas Oratorio and the Easter Oratorio. And two other works, though sui generis, could also be classified as oratorios. All, of course, are in the vernacular language of the country of origin, as are all other oratorios I can think of. Not one is in Latin, the language of Catholic sacred services and texts. Therefore Monteverdi's Vespers is not an oratorio. Q.E.D. :mrgreen:

Well, of course there is one opera-oratorio in Latin...
John Francis

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