Search This Blog

Friday, 18 November 2016


An Oratorio is a sacred story or drama scored for orchestra and solo voices.

The history of the oratorio began in the mid-16th century, when the Italian priest St Philip Neri (July 21, 1515 – May 25, 1595) organised a congregation consisting of secular priests and lay brothers, who took no vows but lived communally. He introduced devotional services in his Oratory (or prayer hall) at Rome and it is from this that the term comes. The services included acting, sermons, prayers, hymn singing, and devotional music and were intended for the reform of the youth of the city.

Philip Romolo Neri 

The earliest surviving oratorio is Rappresentatione di anima et di corpo (The Representation of Soul and Body) by Emilio del Cavaliere. Produced in Rome in 1600, it featured dramatic action, including ballet.

The definitive form of oratorio emerged in the mid 17th century as two types developed:
Oratorio volgare (in Italian), an example being Marco Marazzoli's S Tomaso
Oratorio latino (in Latin) – which was first developed at the Oratorio del Santissimo Crocifisso, related to the church of San Marcello al Corso in Rome. The most significant composer was Giacomo Carissimi, whose Latin oratorios were as significant as the operatic works of Monteverdi.

German oratorio began with Heinrich Schutz, who combined German with Italian elements in his Easter Oratorio, published in 1623, and Christmas Oratorio (1664).

The emotional expression and vigorous choruses of Schutz's oratorios anticipated Johann Sebastian Bach's larger-scale Passion oratorios-- Passion According to St. John (1724) and Passion According to St. Matthew (1729).

The Georgian era saw George Frideric Handel define the English oratorio. He is credited with writing the first English language oratorio, Esther, which began in 1718 as a masque, or chamber drama, before being heavily revised into a full oratorio in 1732.

Handel is most famous today for his Messiah (1741), but his other oratorios were based on themes from Greek and Roman mythology as well as Biblical topics.

Messiah staged at the English National Opera, 2009

With the death of Bach and Handel in the 1750s, the oratorio ceased to be a vital, creative tradition. A notable exception, Franz Joseph Haydn's The Creation was completed in 1798.

Not until Felix Mendelssohn's Elijah (1846) did another oratorio of long-lasting endurance appear.
In Britain, John Stainer's The Crucifixion (1887) became the stereotypical work of massed amateur choral societies.

Edward Elgar tried to revive the oratorio in the first years of the next century and his Dream of Gerontius (1900) made a significant contribution to the form in the next 60 years. Elgar wrote two other oratorios: The Apostles and The Kingdom.

Oratorio returned haltingly to public attention with works such as Stravinsky's opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927) William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast at Leeds (1931) and, Arthur Honegger's Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher in Basel (1938).

Popular musicians began to compose works in the form later in the century, most notably Paul McCartney with his Liverpool Oratorio (1991).

Source Compton's Encyclopedia

No comments:

Post a Comment