Baroque Era and the Oratorio Research Paper

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For the Baroque movement, the imperative of restoring and solidifying authority was based in the vestment of this to the Church through the Crown. Thus, the perspective of the Baroque movement as serving very particular objectives is captured in the political and cultural forces driving its chief composers. As we move into a discussion on some of these figures, it becomes increasingly apparent that success and notoriety depended largely on courtly patronage and that, consequently, those who achieved the greatest success and notoriety would be the most adept in the innovation of sacred music.

Key Figures in the Development of the Oratorio:

Perhaps none from this time can be said to have been so adept as Handel, who is seen to an extent as the key nexus point between the Renaissance and the Classical period. Living during the Baroque period stretching between these eras, he is often seen as a unifying figure for bridging the values of composers both before and after himself. This was true both chronologically and geographically as the German born and Italian trained composers set his adult life in London. It was here that he became a leading figure of the movement and highly favored both by the Queen and by the prominent social figures of city. Bringing the form of Italian choral arrangement to the theatre in particular, Handel helped to make a new and compelling form of vocal presentation possible to English-speaking audiences. Accordingly, Dent (2007) tells that "Italian singers have always been unrivalled in popular favour, and in Handel's days they were not only something new to England, but were the exponents of a vocal art which admittedly has never been surpassed. The theatre was new and sumptuous; society was wealthy and at the same time exclusive; at the opera the great world met together as in a sort of club. People went to talk and to be seen as well as to see and hear; they do so in opera-houses still. And the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket possessed the greatest opera-composer living, a greater even than Scarlatti himself." (Dent, p. 34)

Here, the classicist implications of the compositional world are reiterated. But it is also of interest to note that this would mark an interesting convergence of the religious and secular worlds. As noted, much of the Baroque composition of the time was conceived to achieve an aural and physical symbiosis with the performance space of a cathedral. However, were performance was set within the theatrical context, inherently sacred music would be presented to audiences with cultural and social motives for presenting themselves. This is one of the core ironies of the Baroque period, which would occur under the banner of conversion to religious adherence but which would carry many of the same cultural and status-based implications as have secular forms of composition. In many ways, this helps us to understand why Handel would be such an important figure to Classical composers such as Mozart and Beethoven who would emerge to seminal importance after Handel's Baroque movement had eclipsed into irrelevance. This may be suggest that the value in the work of Baroque's greatest composers was in finding ways to innovate with the mode of sacred music and, consequently, producing lasting musical contributions that would far outlast the sociocultural values of the time.

One of the primary reasons that figures such as Handel would enjoy such universal acclaim even while writing within a religious framework would be the emotive and evocative nature of his oratorios. As would be common practice, the oratorio would boast many of the same conventions as the opera in terms of arrangement and aesthetic, but the thematic impetus would often bring to bear the greater spiritual implications at the heart of the Baroque movement. So is this demonstrated by Handel's oratorios, which would generally revolve on biblical narratives and would, accordingly, expand into broad themes on human emotion and divine recognition. This is readily apparent in such early oratorios as Saul, in which the use of a chorus carried pointedly more populist implications. Though presented in the King's Theatre in London, Saul would nonetheless be suggestive of the intention for inclusiveness within the Baroque idiom. On this point, Hicks (2007) remarks that in this particular oratorio, "the chorus, not mere commentators, played a role as the people of Israel, directly affected by the downfall of their king. On this framework Handel created a musical drama of remarkable power, drawing the listener with sympathy into the growing disturbance of Saul's mind while evoking vivid images of such scenes as the victory parade for David and the visit to the Witch. The expression of blended love and loss in the final elegy for Saul and Jonathan is one of the most moving moments in all Handel's output. Saul opened a season of oratorio and ode at the King's on 16 January 1739, concluding on 19 April." (Ch. 9)

The acclaim that Handel would experience during his lifetime may likely be viewed as a product of his patronage in the royal court and the favor which he would curry for his evocative liberties with biblical verse and the relative accessibility which he favored. As the discussion veers into more specific recognition of works such as Messiah, the popular permeation of Handel's compositions is a matter of importance to our discussion. Indeed, with the particular mindset of the Church toward conversion through sacred music, Handel's popularity as a composer would play a role in the cultural and religious mores of the time. Herein, we come to understand the tremendous power that musical composition possessed during the Baroque era. In Handel's stature, it also becomes apparent that the monarchies of Europe were well aware of and in clear advocacy of this power. Hicks notes that even prior to his transition into the oratorio, Handel's works in opera were largely done at the behest of royals. Particularly in London, but also as a figure who moved with fluidity about the European continent, Handel did function as something of a centralizing figure of especially great importance to the court's music appreciators. This is demonstrated by the high honors frequently bestowed upon Handel and, simultaneously, the greater liberties availed him in the pursuit of his craft. So is this noted where Hicks describes Handel's time in the Royal Academy of Music in London, telling that "tn May 1719 the king authorized an annual bounty of £1000 to the Academy and ordered its legal incorporation. On 14 May Handel was commissioned by the Lord Chamberlain to visit the Continent and contract 'with such Singer or Singers & #8230; fit to perform on the English Stage', Senesino being particularly required. Handel seems not to have returned to Italy, however, but instead went to Dresden, probably taking in Dusseldorf and Halle on the way. He was there by July and stayed on until September, when an illustrious opera company (including Senesino and Handel's old colleague Durastanti) was assembled for a lavish production of Lotti's Teofane to celebrate a royal marriage." (Ch. 6)

Handel's life and work was inextricable from the economic fortune of the kings and queens of Europe, and as such, became itself a vestige for the crown's strategic use of the Catholic Church to its own ends. His popularity would become during his later periods of composition, a function of the re-emergence of the Catholic Church. Moreover, his station in London would become something of a trailblazing decision, creating a path for the likes of Haydn and Mendelssohn thereafter to extend their influence into the United Kingdom and, consequently, the English speaking world. To the consequence of extending the power of sacred Catholic music to convert potential adherents, Handel's English oratorios would become a template to those that he influenced. So is this denoted by the Music Academy Online (MAO)(2008), which would report on the anecdote of Haydn's first journey from Vienna to London. Here, it is reported that "the sixty-eight-year-old Haydn, now working in Vienna, was well-known throughout Western Europe. He had had repeated invitations to come to England and compose there, and in 1791 he decided to make the trip. While in London, he composed an opera, symphonies, and at least twenty other pieces. The English audiences adored Haydn and his concerts were wildly successful. Haydn also attended concerts by other composers. A famous anecdote relates that Haydn wept when he heard Handel's Messiah for the first time in 1791, stating that Handel was 'the master of us all.'" (MAO, 1)

So taken was Haydn that he would be inspired to compose the Creation upon his return to Vienna in 1798. Like Handel, Haydn would use the inspiration of biblical parable as the basis for a work of grand operatic purpose. And like Handel, Haydn's cultural fluidity would be a basis for the accessibility and widespread appeal enjoyed by his work. As MAO reports, Haydn's the Creation would be regarded as…[continue]

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