Music in History

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Baroque forms


Oratorio is a large musical composition for  orchestra, choir and soloists. It has several similarities with opera ( for example, there are distinct characters, costumes,  arias), however an opera is musical theater, while oratorio is a concert work , (however, operas are staged  as oratorios sometimes  and oratorios are staged as operas). Generally speking,  in oratorio there is no interaction between the characters and there may be no costumes. An important difference between two genres is the plot of the story. Opera usually deals  with  history and mythology including romances, scams, murders. An oratorio's story usually refers to religious themes, suitable for performance in church. Protestant composers took their themes  from the Bible, while Catholics  were inspired by  the lives of saints. Oratorios were extremely popular during the 17th century in Italy. This was partly due to the success of opera and because of  the prohibition of spectacles during Lent  by  the church (During the Lent opera was forbidden, so public turned to  oratorio).

From 1600 to 1700
According to Willi Apel, the oratorio' s  history begins in the mid 16th century << when Philippe Neri inaugurated in Rome a special  order, the "oratoriani" and established a building called "oratorio">>. These included readings from scriptures, a sermon and a singing of laude. A type of laude was the " dialogue-laude". These were  religious poems  written in 3 or 4 parts and performed by different groups of singers who may had dressed up  like the characters they represended. From these presentations, who were  called      "rappresentatione", "storia", "esempio", "misterio" oratorio was  developed . It was supported by the counter-reformation.

Liturgical  dramas of the late Middle Ages and the mystery plays  of the 14th and 15th centuries  are included to oratorio's forerunners. Although there  have been records of  a few works  that have the characteristics of an oratorio since middle ages, the work "Raptresentatione di Anima et di Corpo" (1600) of Emilio de Cavalieri ( libretto by Agostino Manni) is considered to be the first oratorio. On the other hand, there are  many to  consider the work of Claudio Monteverdi ,"Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda", as the first secular oratorio. Some researchers have challenged that both works belong to the genre of oratorio.

During 1650  some changes were observed. Religious Oratorio tended to be "secular". There were performances outside the church, in backyards and public theaters. But whether secular or religious, the story of the oratorio was "momentous". Topics such as Creation, the life of Christ, a classical hero or prophet were included. At that time most composers of oratorio also were popular composers of opera . They began to publish  the librettos of their work, as they did  with the operatic librettos. Soon they emphasized the arias and  they decreased the choir part. Alongside  female entertainers appeared  while the man narrator was replaced by recitative. In the mid-17th century  two types oratorio had been created.
1. Oratorio Volgare (in Italian)
This type  had a duration of 30-60 minutes. It was performed in two parts which were separated by a sermon. The music was similar to that of their contemporary works of opera and  chamber cantata.

2. Oratorio latino (in Latin).Most were consisted of one part .
The most important representative of the oratorio latino was Giacomo Carissimi. His work "Jephte" considered the first masterpiece of the genre. A German composer, Heinrich Schütz was  the first oratorio composer  with the following works: Historia der Auferstehung (1623) and "Christmas Oratorio" (1664). The latter is considered to be of a great artistic value and it can be compared with Bach's Christmas Oratorio, written a century later .The Oratory of the late Baroque to 1800.

A.Scarlatti wrote many oratorios but only 18 survived with music. Their style is very close to that of Scarlatti's opera although they had not  the same success. J.S. Bach was the one who continued the tradition of Heinrich Schütz writing the "Christmas Oratorio" . Other composers before Bach, such as  Buxtehude, preferred  the shorter form of the cantata  than Oratorio).

The most famous oratorio composer of Great Britain during the Georgian period was the German-born George Frideric Handel, his most famous work ,the "Messiah", is still very popular . Handel also wrote oratorios based on themes from Greek -Roman mythology and  Bible. It is also believed that he wrote the first oratorio in English. We are talking about "Esther". Later,  J. Haydn also wrote oratorios.


                                     Carissimi: Jephte (1/3)

                             J.S. Bach - Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 - Part I
                                       conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner

                                        Handel: The  Messiah. Hallejujah           

         Carissimi: Jephte (2/3)       

         Carissimi: Jephte (3/3)

                                    J.S. Bach - Easter Oratorio, BWV 249

                                   Haydn Il ritorno di Tobia [Oratorio 1775]

19 cent- today
Oratorios also had been composed during 19th century (Felix Mendelssohn, Georg Vierling. The latter is the one who modernized the form of the secular oratorio). During 20th century composers such as  Stravinsky, Arthur Honegger, Krzysztof Penderecki, and pop composers such Paul Mc Cartney wrote Oratorios.

Willi Apel: Harvard dictionary of music,second edition, eighth printing

       Emilio de Cavalieri: Rappresentazione di anima et di corpo

                             Monteverdi: Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

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