And The Glory Of The Lord Handel Essay

And the Glory of the Lord’ from Handel’s oratorio Messiah

‘And the Glory of the Lord’ is a chorus taken from Handel’s oratorio Messiah (1741) written for SATB choir and orchestra.

An oratorio is a setting of religious words for solo singers, chorus and orchestra.

A choir singing

Handel was born in Germany and worked as the court conductor for the Elector of Hanover. He visited England and eventually settled there. His most famous works include:

  • operas eg Julius Caesar
  • music for royal occasions eg Water Music
  • more than 20 oratorios - Messiah is the most famous

The first performance of Messiah took place in a newly opened concert hall in Dublin. Now it is often performed in concert halls and churches and is popular with amateurs. Messiah has as its theme the central message of Christianity - the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ (the Messiah). The words are taken from the prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah.

The words were selected by Charles Jennens. The whole work takes about three hours to perform, amazingly Handel only took just over three weeks to compose it.

Messiah was written during the Baroque period. And the Glory of the Lord is the fourth movement of Messiah. It is the first time in the work that the choir sing.

The movement opens with a short orchestral introduction. For the first performance, the small orchestra included strings, two trumpets, timpani, organ and harpsichord continuo. Handel added more instruments (oboes and bassoons) for later performances.

The first entry is by altos singing the melody of the orchestral introduction.

The words tell of the coming of the Lord (the promised Messiah):

It is a joyous movement which is reflected in the bright key of A major, the allegro tempo and the lilting rhythms.

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George Handel’s ‘And the Glory of the Lord’ was created in the Baroque era between 1600-1750 in a short period of only 24 days. The piece, despite the religious nature of the subject matter, was intended for performance in the concert hall rather than the church. The original accompaniment was just strings and continuo with trumpets and timpani drums used in several of the uplifting movements, such as the famous ‘Hallelujah Chorus’. Subsequently, Handel went on to add parts for oboes and bassoon, although they are not given solo roles but rather double existing string parts and in places the voice parts too.

Now before we go into depth with the actual piece, here’s a little background on George Frideric Handel (bold bits are important bits):


Handel was born in Germany in 1685 and from the age of 18 devoted his life to music. In 1707 Handel’s first serious opera – Rodrigo – was performed. Success followed and in 1710 he returned to Hanover to be appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector. As part of this role, he was given permission to take up a year’s leave in London, England. He spent the rest of his life in this country and it was during this time that he wrote some of his finest instrumental works, especially the overtures and concerti grossi. When his employer, the Elector of Hanover, succeeded the childless Queen Anne and became George I of England, Handel became his Royal Composer. He wrote Water Music (1717) to accompany the kin’s triumphant procession up the River Thames. Towards the end of his life his sight failed and he died in 1759 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Structure of the Oratorio in Messiah
An oratorio is a musical work based on words and stories from the bible.
Through the use of recitatives, arias and choruses, the oratorio in Messiah closely follows the forms of Italian operas. ‘And the Glory of the Lord’ is the fourth movement of the whole work and is the first chorus scored for a four-part SATB (soprano, alto, tenor and bass).

Recitative
In the recitative, the fundamental idea is to concentrate on getting the words of the narration over with a minimal use of music.
Aria
The aria is essentially a solo song which often reflects on a mood or emotion. For example, a minor song could reflect a sad emotion.
Chorus
The chorus has the function of summing up the action of the story at that particular point in the drama. The chorus in Messiah are powerful and contribute to the drama of the story.

There are four ideas in ‘And the Glory of the Lord’:

  • Idea 1 – ‘And the glory of the Lord’ – The short theme has two characteristic features being the first three notes outline a triad of A major and that it is a stepwise scale ending. The words are mainly syllabic (one note per syllable).
  • Idea 2 – ‘Shall be revealed’ – Built using two bar descending sequences and is melismatic (several notes to a syllable) on the word ‘revealed’.
  • Idea 3 – ‘And all flesh shall see it together’ – A repetitive idea. Because it repeats, it gives the impression of a firm statement.
  • Idea 4 – ‘For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it’ – This idea is characterised by long, dotted minim repeated notes. 

All four of these short ideas are contrasted, so that when Handel combines them together, each ‘melody’ with its own character and shape can be clearly heard. 

The whole movement conveys the joyful words through the sprightly triple time metre (3/4) and Allegro tempo marking. The key is A major with modulations to the dominant key of E major and dominant key of B major. Minor keys are avoided as the words dictate the prevailing joyful mood or ‘affection’ of the music. It was customary in Baroque music for a single mood to prevail in a movement and in this case the ‘affection’ is clearly one of glorification and praise.

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