‘And the Glory of the Lord’ from Handel’s Messiah Factsheet
Handel wrote Messiah in 1741 at 25 Brook Street, in only 24 days. The work was written by Handel’s good friend Charles Jennens, who collaborated with Handel for many other works, including Saul (1753-9) and Belshazzar (1744-5). The words were taken from the Bible and tell of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jennens used a compilation of extracts from the King James Bible, and from the Psalms included in the Book of Common Prayer. A portrait of Charles Jennens can be seen in the composition room at Handel House.
Messiah is the first instance in the history of music of an attempt to view the mighty drama of human redemption from an artistic standpoint. In contrast with most of Handel’s oratorios, the singers in Messiah do not assume dramatic roles; there is no single narrative voice, and very little quoted speech is used.
For the first performance, the small orchestra included strings, two trumpets, timpani, organ and harpsichord continuo. This was a relatively sparse orchestra for a large scale work because the first performance of Messiah was to be in Dublin and Handel did not know what instruments would be available to him. Handel added more instruments (oboes and bassoons) for later performances.
Messiah is made up of 53 pieces of music; 21 of which are full chorus pieces. ‘And the Glory of the Lord’ is the first full chorus that appears in the Messiah; it is the first time in the work that the choir sing.
The words tell of the coming of the Lord (the promised Messiah):
“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all the flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
The piece opens with a short orchestral introduction. The first vocal entry is by the altos singing the melody of the orchestral introduction. The other vocal parts then respond to this with the Bass line repeating the Alto line with the soprano and tenor lines in homophonic harmony. The piece continues with repetition and variation between each vocal line with both polyphonic and homophonic textures.
Handel splits the text into 4, creating 4 separate musical motifs:
I. And the glory, the glory of the Lord | II. Shall be re-veal-ed | III. And all flesh shall see it together | IV. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.
The chorus follows this basic plan:
1. Presentation and development of the first two motifs (Bar 1-43)
2. Presentation and development of the latter two motifs (Bar 43-73)
3. Combination of all four motifs.
It is a joyous movement which is reflected in the bright key of A major, the allegro tempo and the lilting rhythms.
Messiah premiered in Dublin in 1742 and was very well received. The original female soloists were Christina Maria Avoglio and Susanna Cibber. However, for the London premiere (March 1743), the reception was not as warm as it was in Dublin. The press declared that the work’s subject matter was too dignified to be performed in a Theatre, by secular singers like Cibber, and as a result Handel presented the work as the New Sacred Oratorio instead of Messiah. Handel had to adapt his music to fit different venues and to fit different singers, this is why Messiah was continually re-worked and revised.
The work gained recognition and eventually became one of the most popular choral works in the history of Western music. It has been said that upon
hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus” movement of Messiah, King George II of England was reputedly so overcome with emotion that he spontaneously rose to his feet. When the king stands, everyone stands, so the audience immediately rose also. The tradition of standing for the chorus is still observed today in most live performances of “Messiah”. The work has been altered and updated many times since its composition, and was revised by many other musicians, Mozart in particular.
By 1754 Handel was afflicted by the onset of blindness, and in 1755 turned over the direction of Messiah to his pupil, J.C. Smith. The final performance of the work at which Handel was present was at Covent Garden on 6 April 1759, eight days before his death.
‘And the Glory of the Lord’ Summary of Musical Elements
Allegro (lively and fast)
Top A for sopranos and bottom G for Bass
mf and f to match the joyous mood of the words
Driving regular on-beat crochet rhythms match the stately mood. Use of Hemiola- notes grouped in 2-beat units
Clear Major harmonies- minor avoided matching joyful words.
Alternating Homophonic and Polyphonic sections