- I have never really ‘prepared’ for Christmas.
- Life was always to hectic, end of the year targets to be met and a feeling of general exhaustion.
- Now I have the time and want to enjoy the holiday season, but in a different way.
- I decided to follow the ‘home schooling’ Christmas plan laid out by Carol at Journey-and-Destination.
- Each week read a section of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: (review see link)
- Follow Cindy’s Handel’s Messiah 25 day listening plan
- I will to add my thoughts during the coming weeks about the readings and music.
- Before the listening to the music I read the text Isaiah 40 1:5 closely. I was able to understand certain words and images and connect it to the music.
- I had to listen to each musical selection at least twice.
- I used this link to read the text that is being sung: http://opera.stanford.edu/iu/libretti/messiah.htm
- Tomorrow I will start The Christmas Carol and catch up on day two and three of the music selections.
These first four selections are the beginning of a prophetic poem.
1. Synphony: 3:03 sec
Only two movements in Messiah are purely instrumental: this overture, written as “Sinfony” in Handel’s autograph.
The music sounds very Elizabethan as if you are watching a grand procession. After one minute the tempo quickens into a light. and carefree rhythm. This is a sudden change and have no idea what Handel is trying to emphasize here.
2. Tenor ( Recitative) 2:51 sec Isaiah 40:1:3
I had to listen to this 3 times. It didn’t make much of an impression. That is probably because this is a recitative. I never heard of the word but it means this selection has a rhythm of natural speech with slight melodic variation and little orchestral accompaniment. You have to listen carefully otherwise it is finished before you realise it! It sounds very natural. The recitative begins with an iteration (reptition) “Comfort, comfort my people…”announcing an important proclamation.
3. Tenor (Air) 3:20 sec Isaiah 40: 4
This is not an easy selection to sing, the tenor really does his best. It is sung in an exaggerated unnatural manner. The sentence is just 20 words but this tenor sings it, repeats it, warbles it for more than 3 minutes… singing in a trilling manner with many turns and variations. Here we listen to a series of images. Make straight the desert highway, Every valley shall be raised up, mountain and hill made low and the rough ground shall become level,
This is an allusion to the exile of the Jews in the desert. I learned it is a Eastern practice to repair the roads for a royal journey.
4. Chorus 2:52 sec Isaiah 40: 5
This was the nicest of the selections for today: a group of persons singing a joyous message to everyone (Jew or gentile) that when the preparations are complete….there will be a joyous revelation.. I listened to it 2x , it sounded uplifting
- The Messiah, which premiered in Dublin in 1742, is the story of the life of Christ.
- Handel wrote this oratorio in less than a month!
- An oratorio tells a sacred story. There are no costumes, scenery, or dramatic action.
- The oratorio is in three parts, the first of which tells of Christ’s birth, the second tells the Easter story, and his triumphant return.
- The music selections are structured in recitatives, airs, chorus, duets and instrumentals.
- Today the words of the post exile prophets are giving the exiled Jews messages about the future, explaining their current situation and scolding them for not building a temple.
1. Bass ( Recitative) 1:19 Haggai 2: 6,7 and Malachi 3:1
The voice is so deep it is hard to understand the words. Listen and try not to smile when you hear him sing the word ‘ shake’.
2. Alto (Air) 4:05 Malachi 3:2
23 words sung in 4 minutes. The alto repeats the first sentence over and over. The melody is smooth in the beginning but quickly changes tempo. When this happens her voice sounds like the up’s and down’s of a rollercoaster.
3. Chorus 2:30 Malachi 3:3 THE BEST…so far!
This was the most beautiful selection I’ve listened to. With the words “And He shall purify the sons of Levi” the sopranos start the chorus with the ‘ theme’ melody and the other voices repeat it in different pitches. The harmonies are beautiful. While listening you can imagine one voice chasing after the other one trying to ‘ catch ‘ the theme and sing together. If you can find this selection on the internet….just listen and see what I mean!
- The Messiah is coming.The prophets bring the good news to the Jewish nation.
- A virgin will conceive a child, and he shall be called Emmanuel.
- These selections were not very impressive.
- The alto uses vibrato: the steady pulsation of the voice that is heard on a sustained note.
- The words mountain and glory ‘go on forever’ !
- Handel facts:
- Born: February 23 ,1685 in Halle, Saxony, in northern Germany.
- Died: April 14, 1759
- Buried: Wesminster Abbey, London
- Legacy: 40 opera’s and 29 oratorio’s
- 1. Alto (rectitative) 0:23 sec Isaiah 7:14
This was quick! 18 words. You hear a rhythm of the tune but the “singing” sounds more like the speaking voice than the singing voice.
- 2. Alto (air and chorus) 5:27 sec Isaiah 40:9, Isaiah 60:1
This selection has the longest intro so far ( 24 sec). The alto begins and the chorus joins in. The melody sounded like a Christmas carole, uncomplicated and full of good tidings. There was no coherent text section. Handel combines different biblical sources into this movement. Confusing.
- Darkness and light have been used as symbols in today’s text.
- Darkness and light represent two opposing forces of despair and happiness.
- There is hope for eveyone because “ For unto us a child is born…”
I must not forget to mention the performers:
- Allan Clayton (Tenor)
- Alice Coote (Mezzo Soprano)
- Ailish Tynan (Soprano)
- Matthew Rose (Bass)
- London: Handel moved to London in 1726 and became a naturalized British subject.
- King George l: Handel was King George’s favorite composer.
- Permanent disability: Blindness was caused by a unsuccessful operation on his cataracts. Handel continued to compose music in spite of this handicap.
- Beethoven: considered Handel “the master of us all… the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb”.
1. Bass (Recitative) 2:01 sec Isaiah 60:2-3
- There is not much you can do with a bass voice.
- It is deep, dark, heavy and evengood news sounds onminous.
- The ‘ spoken’ text with a slight melody is bland.
- This singer is a very skilled.
- Matthew Rose was awarded in June 2012 the Critics Circle Award for Exceptional Young Talent.
2. Bass (Air) 3:07 sec Isaiah 9:2
- Now the same bass voice ( Matthew Rose) sounds much better.
- It must depend on the type of music and tempo that is required of the bass voice.
- His voice here is warm and goes very high for a bass!
3. Chorus: 4:05 sec Isaiah 9:6
- Just when you think a chorus selection cannot get any better… it does!
- It is hard to write a beautiful song.
- It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound even MORE beautiful.
- Handel uses: melisma: a group of notes sung on one note. “
- The chorus uses 57 different notes on the word ‘born’ in “ Unto us a child is born…”
- This is a real ‘ toe-tapper’ !! The birth announcement is bursting with joy!
- The central portion of this passage is Luke 2 is the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament.
- The words remind me of the Nativity plays we acted out in school.
- We memorized the words, did not know exactly what we were saying
- …. but now this passage brings back many memories.
- And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
- An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
- But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.
- I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
- Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
1. Pastorale Symphony 2:31 sec
After the jubilant chorus “ For unto us a Child is born…”
the gentleness of the Pastoral Symphony brings us quietly into the stable and the birth of Jesus.
2. Recitative (Soprano) 0:31 sec
3. Recitative (Soprano) 0:31 sec
4. Recitative (Soprano) 0:17 sec
These three very short selections are such by the Irish soprano Ailish Tynan. The melodies are light and bright. Ailish effortlessly reaches the high notes. As with the other recitatives it is a spoken text but sung flawlessly!
5. Chorus 1:52 sec
This was the most disappointing of all the chorus selections. It did not ‘ sparkle’ ! Perhaps Handel has used up his creative juices…..but we know the best is yet to come…The Hallelujah chorus!
- Despite the beautiful ‘aria’s’ the glory of the Messiah is to be found in its choruses.
- Handel is the finest composer for chorus that ever lived.
- During his travels he absorbed different musical styles throughout Europe:
- the fugue in Germany, the oratorio in Italy and choral composition in England.
- His greatest triumph is the famous Hallelujah chorus.
1. Soprano (Air) 4:17 sec Zecharaiah 9: 9-10
- Ritornello is the opening theme lasting 17 sec for violins.
- This theme is repeated in different keys throughout the movement.
- The soprano launches into a melisma holding the word ‘ rejoice ‘ for 50 notes!
- The selection shifts key to emphasize a new fase of the song and has a slower tempo.
- The pace quickens again and in the original key.
- It feels like a poem built up as ABA.
- There is a big powerful ending and the soprano demonstrates her talents!
- Although the text is taken from scripture the ‘bold’ singing style has a bit of the dramatic
- …like an Italian opera!
- This challenge has opened my eyes and ‘ ears ‘ to classical music on a different level.
- I not only enjoy the melodies but am learning musical and vocal terms associated to the music!
- The Messiah was performed in Dublin 1742.
- Such a crowd was expected for the work of the famous Handel that the ladies were urged not to wear hoopskirts.
- The gentlemen were asked to leave their swords at home.
- In this way an audience of 700 people could be squeezed into a hall of only 600 seats!
Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750 of a stroke following unsuccessful cataract surgery. The same surgeon operated on Handel at the end of the composer’s life with the same unsuccessful result!
1. Alto (recitative) 0:24 sec Isaiah 35:5-6
- The alto sings/speaks in images of a reversal of circumstances: (to receive God’s word).
- The eyes of the blind be opened, ears of the deaf unstopped, tongue of the mute speak.
- I read the text but still had difficulty understanding the words sung by the alto, especially ‘the lame leap as a hart’.
- Recitatives are not my favorites!
2. Alto & soprano 4:35 sec Isaiah 40:11 Matthew 11: 28-29
- This selection contains pastoral symbolism: the Shepherd feeding and protecting his flocks and lambs.
- Beautiful melodies that lumber along without any change in tempo.
- I had to listen carefully and not be lulled into a sense of sleepiness….dozing off.
3. Chorus 02:20 sec Matthew 11:30
- This is an ‘amuse-bouches’ !
- It is a bite-size selection of the menu that is coming.
- If you have heard the Hallelujah Chorus you will recognize ‘signature’ harmonies and the almost biblical ending.
- These harmonies will give you ‘goosebumps’ !
- This is all to prepare you for the ‘grand finale’ awaiting you in the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ !
- Another ‘ toe-tapper!
- The music of the late Baroque period (1710-1750) represented by the
- two great figures of Johann S. Bach and George F. Handel.
- They stands as a high-watermark in Western music.
- Both men could compose seemingly without effort.
- No other composers could compete with them and choose other directions.
- The Baroque style started and ended with the music of these two giants
1. Chorus 2:22 sec John 1:29
(This is the offical start of PART II…leading us to the Passion on day 13)
- This chorus reminded me the way we sing ‘ Frères Jaques’ .
- One person starts the melody, the second begins and then third starts his part .
- All the melodic lines are separate and independent.
- The musical term is counterpoint (polyphony).
- I was not impressed with this chorus. Slow tempo, no great harmonies…..very average.
- Two of Baroque greats Bach and Handel, both composers were born in 1685 in Germany.
- Yet the men were so different!
- Bach: confined to towns in the region of his birth
- Handel: traveled the world ( Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Venice, Dublin)
- Bach: stayed at home playing organ fuges and church cantata’s from the choir loft
- Handel: musical entrepreneur working in the theater, by training a composer of opera
- Bach: fell into obscurity at the end of his life, retreating into a world of counterpoint (see Dec 08)
- Handel: stature grew on international stage. His music has NEVER gone out of fashion due to The Messiah!
1. Alto ( air) 9:51 sec Isaiah 53: 3 and Isaiah 50: 6
- Text describes Jesus as a rejected man full of sorrow and the melody conveys this somber message.
- The second part of the selection stands in sharp contrast to the first part.
- Tempo is quick and the singer coveys the defiant Jesus who stands strong despite the shame he must endure.
- This is another example of ABA form because the selection ends with a repetition of part one.
- The musical term is ‘ da capo’ (repeat from the beginning)
- Reading about Handel’s music I found it described as ‘ dense’.
- What is ‘ dense’ music?
- The musical term is homophonic .
- Different elements are working together to form an impressive whole.
- There is a melody line supported by chords and harmonies that will send chills down your spine.
- The Hallelujah chorus is the best example.
- I listen to it next Friday December 19……can’t wait!
1. Chorus 1:43 sec Isaiah 53:3
- Tempo reminds me of a march.
- The singers have a firm tone.
- The central message is emphasized in the second section with warm harmonies but I’ve heard better.
2. Chorus 1:47sec Isaiah 53: 5
- Here we hear the same melody starting with the soporano’s then the alto’s, tenors, and bass voices.
- This chorus sounds like a ‘rondo’ alternating the principal recurring theme.
- I heard a bit of harmony on the last few notes, otherwise a bland chorus.
- Yes, that is possible even for Handel.
3. Chorus 3:43 Isaiah 53: 6
- “ All we like sheep..” starts off with a bang!
- After the last chorus it is a wake-up call!
- Yes, this is better.
- You can imagine the ‘ sheep ( the nation of Israel) who have gone astray’ dashing over the meadows.
- Suddenly the tempo slows, it feels like an ominous cloud approaching.
- The the message is:
- “ the innocent was punished as if guilty (Jesus) , that the guilty (sinners) might be rewarded as if innocent.”
Surprising what I am learning with this Christmas challenge.
What is texture in music?
- There are 5 types.
- Monophonic – Taps for a bugle
- Polyphonic – Stars & Stripes march – FINAL ‘AMEN’ IN HALLELUJAH CHORUS (sounds biblical)
- Biphonic – most difficult to understand Bach prelude 851intro
- Heterophonic – two voices performing variations of the same melody – gospel ‘ Lonesome Valley’
- Homophonic – melody with accompaniment – Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin).
1. Tenor (recitative) 0:40 sec Psalm 22:
- The singer has a freedom to emphasize the dramatic delivery.
- The but the music must keep its shape and rhythm.
- No two actors speak the narrative of a Shakespeare play exactly the same way.
- The same thing applies to recitative singing.
- This was just 19 words.
- It’s over before you know it, so listen carefully
2. Chorus 2:19 sec Psalm 22: 8
- Text is confusing.
- The words ‘ He’ and ‘Him” refer to both God the Father and God the Son in the same sentence.
- I can hardly differentiate them while reading.
- …..if you listen it is baffling.
- This is an example of homonyms with the word ‘ Him’ .
- Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but different in meaning.
- Real tongue -twister.
- I walked around the room during this chorus.
- Nothing, no harmony, no ‘ big ending’ on the last notes stopped me in my tracks.
- He trusted in God that He would deliver Him;
- let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him.”
The tone is somber….we are entering the Passion of the Lord.
Tenor (recitative) 1:48 sec Psalm 69:20
- It is not advised to put your trust in men, they only increase your sorrows.
- Reference to the betrayal by Judas.
- The tenor brings this message in a spoken words and musical rhythm.
- Allan Clayton (tenor) is one of the most sought after singers of his generation.
Tenor (air) 1:22 sec Lamentations 1:12 ( Passion)
Text: Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow.
- The tenor voice is easier to understand than the bass or alto.
- Diction is clear and sharp.
- Tenor is derived from the latin word ‘ tenere’ to hold.
- It is a ‘ holding’ voice because other voices were normally calculated in relation to the tenor.
- We are going to listen to some long sequences that will bring us in the ‘tragic’ mood.
- Selection 1. represents the Crucifixion, 2. represents Death and 3. is the Ascension chorus.
1. Alto (recitative) 0:17 sec Isaiah 53:8 (Crucifixion)
- The message is very short: He ( the saviour) shall be indeed cut off out of the land of the living (die a violent death).
- But his name, his race shall not be extinct….just 17 seconds.
2. Alto (air) 2:20 sec Psalm 16:10 (Death)
- Again, the alto is speaking the words with somber tone to emphasize the Lord’s suffering.
- The melody is dark but has no ‘ memorable ‘ features. It is just sung very skilfully.
3. Chorus 2:58 sec Psalm 24:7-10 (Ascension)
- The somber sequences finally end with this ‘ uplifting’ chorus.
- 5 distinct voices ( soprano1 and 2 + alto) alternate refrains with the low ( tenor and bass) voices.
- If you listen carefully after 50 seconds….
- 5 voices blend into 4 ‘ standard’ voices ( soprano, alto,tenor and bass).
- This chorus is beautiful but still not ‘ magical’ !
- Listen to the magnificent chorus from day 07
- ‘ His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.’ after this one.
- Then you will hear the difference,
Today: What is a recitative?
1. Tenor (recitative) 0:19 sec Hebrews 1: 5
- Recitative is a method used in opera to move the plot along.
- There are two types of recitative:
- secco (dry): accompanied by clear chords while the singer speaks/sing .
- The singer can easily speak….’ get the words out’.
- Accompagnato: (using orchestra) this is more song like.
- This one is definitely ‘ secco’ .
2. Chorus 1:28 Hebrews 1: 6
- This is a celebratory chorus marking Christ’s reception into heaven.
- We hear a characteristic of Handel’s choruses: counterpoint:.
- It is the relationship between voices that are INTERDEPENDENT harmonically……yet INDEPENDENT in rhythm.
- I listened to this chorus 3 x waiting for a sound ‘moment’ that impressed me to the core. Nothing.
- Handel was a smart cookie!
- He produced in London opera seria ( serious opera), mostly long 3 acts that chronicled the triumphs and tragedies of kings and queens.
- BORING and EXPENSIVE!
- 1728 Handel’s academy of music went bankrupt victim of the high fees paid to singers.
- Handel turned his talents to a more lucrative oratorio.
- This was less expensive unstaged opera with a religious subject.
Alto (air) 3:12 sec Psalm 68:18
- The air is usually an exuberant repetition of the message we heard in previous recitatives.
- I listened to an alto and a bass version.
- I prefer the male voice.
- We here again ‘wavy’ singing in certain parts.
- I discovered a wonderful clip on You Tube.
- You can listen to the bass sing and follow the music.
- Now I know the types of notes ( sharps. flats) that the bass is singer.
Chorus 1:04 sec Psalm 68: 11
- Bass and tenors start and then all the voices join in.
- This is repeated with the sopranos altos starting and then off the voices go.
- It was light cheerful chorus but not ‘ memorable ‘.
- Nothing really stood out.
- There is not much you can do in 1 minute and 4 seconds!
- Handel often used the ‘borrowed’ material of other composers to stimulate his imagination.
- For Handel borrowing was a deliberate method of working.
- In only a few instances did Handel include within one of his oratorios an unchanged movement from another composer.
Soprano (air) 2:03 sec Romans 10:15
- This is a soprano solo with instrumental assistance.
- Text and music is a solo moment of reflection.
- It is a calm piece of music and perfectly sung!