For János Bali
The institution of the modern concert owes a great deal to the oratorio. In pre-modern times, the salient points of musical life were not the musical works themselves, but the occasions for music-making; in other words, it was based on the continuous reproduction of music. Thus, a genre that created its own occasion for performance so that it could merely hand itself down to posterity was regarded as an astonishing novelty. Regular annual performances of Handel and Carl Heinrich Graun oratorios in concert halls created a virtual sphere of classic and timeless art, which celebrated itself rather than God. This virtual sphere embodied the phenomena viewed as the rediscovery of early music by the romantics, and it was represented by the physical sphere of the concert hall. Mendelssohn’s performance of his adaptation of J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 1829 fitted naturally into the cult of the Handel oratorio; at the same time, it demonstrated that the crucial point was not so much performing these early works, but rather transferring them into the neutral and defunctionalized sphere of the public concert. The festivals of the nineteenth century that worshiped individual composers or musical works in an almost religious fashion (thereby forming a transition between the liturgy and the concert) were largely built around the ritual of annual oratorio performances.
The unbroken cult of the Handel oratorio was upheld at the expense of an excessive adaptation practice, yet it was unable to revive the German form of the genre even into the twentieth century. The oratorios and passions of Telemann, Carl Heinrich Graun, or Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, which in their time were regarded as lasting works establishing their composers’ artistic rank, are accommodated only with difficulty by today’s concert organizers. If at all, these works are included in concert programs only as curiosities that may be uplifting aesthetically, but historically they appear to be inferior. The reason behind this may partly be that the German oratorio is closely linked to (protestant) liturgy, whereas Handel’s oratorios – despite their biblical texts – are secular in their conception. Another, more general reason is a socio-musical transformation that formed part of the phenomenon labeled as the rediscovery of early music. Throughout the nineteenth century, to attribute supremacy to vocal church music was unquestionable; twentieth-century trends, however, preferred the secular instrumental music of the Baroque and Viennese Classicism, which in turn in its own time (despite the prolific output), was considered secondary, as music for private or domestic use.
For a comparison between Telemann’s and Bach’s ‘Israelite’ oratorios see Ludwig FINSCHER, “Bemerkungen zu den Oratorien Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs,” in Philipp Emanuel Bach und die europäische Musikkultur des mittleren 18. Jahrhunderts, ed. by Hans Joachim MARX (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990), 317 and 319.
For the additional text together with the original text of the whole libretto see Reginald L. SANDERS (ed.), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The Complete Works (CW), IV/1: Die Israeliten in der Wüste. Wq. 238 (Los Altos: The Packard Humanities Institute, 2008), xxvi. About the possible identity of the author of the added text see FINSCHER, “Bemerkungen zu den Oratorien Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs,” 316. The musical setting of the omitted lines did not survive.
See Michael MÄRKER, “Zum Einfluß von Textgattungen und Textstrukturen auf die musikalische Gattung deutschsprachiger Oratorien des 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert,” in Musik als Text. Bericht über den Internationalen Kongreß der Gesellschaft für Musikforschung 1993, 2. vols., ed. by Hermann DANUSER and Tobias PLEHBUCH (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1998), 202. Regarding the text of the stanzas of the chorale which have an obvious connection with the oratorio, see notes 10 and 11 below.
Gen. 3:15, New American Standard Bible (NAS). There are numerous allusions to this passage in the Bible, and here is just one example: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” Rev. 20:1–2, NAS. For the Moses-Jesus analogy, see, among others, Acts 3:22; Heb. 3:16–18.
See Johanna RUDOLPH, “Die historischen Bezüge des ‘Messias’,” Händel-Jahrbuch 13/14 (1967–1968), 43–59. Traces of this hero cult can also be observed in the libretto of Bach’s next oratorio Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu by Ramler.
The titles of the different parts of the text stem from the wordbook published for a 1743 performance, which divided the text into 16 scenes and which can be associated with the librettist Charles Jennens. – The German Handel cult seems to originate in Hamburg. Bach’s friend Klopstock was one of the driving forces behind the Handel cult in Hamburg through his translation of the messianic text. Moreover, contemporary musical life in Hamburg gives the impression that it was precisely the premiere of Die Israeliten in 1769 that hastened the German premiere of Messiah in Hamburg (1772). Although Bach did not conduct the work at the premiere, he did so on later occasions (1775 and 1777). The conductor of the first Hamburg (and German) performance of Messiah was Michael Arne. See Howard E. SMITHERS, A History of the Oratorio, vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 353. About Bach’s performances of Messiah see also H. G. OTTENBERG, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, transl. by Philip J. WHITMORE (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 159, 313 and 337. On the ebullient account by Johann Heinrich Voß of the 1775 performance, see Walther SIEGMUND-SCHULTZE, “Die musikalische Gedankenwelt des ‘Messias’,” Händel-Jahrbuch 13/14 (1967–1968), 25–42. On the beginnings of the cult of Handel in Germany see Walther SIEGMUND-SCHULTZE, “Über die ersten ‘Messias’-Aufführungen”; further see his introduction to Walther SIEGMUND-SCHULTZE (ed.), Georg Friedrich Händel. Beiträge zu seiner Biographie aus dem 18. Jahrhundert (Leipzig: Verlag Philipp Reclam, 1984), 5–24. See also footnotes 7 and 21 in the present essay.
The grand processional march of Moses is a French overture that is based on the musical topic of the reigning monarch. The two Israelite women assume the traditional roles of the prima and seconda donna, while the character of Moses is represented by a hieratic bass. In addition, the opening chorus, as well as the big recitativo accompagnato with chorus in the first part, is a parallel to a Gluck opera scene (in Bach’s work, the choruses seem to be musically salient and – with the exception of the closing chorus – represent a kind of distilled classicism, which indicates its affinity to the operatic tradition represented, at the same time, by Gluck and Handel alike). About the connection of Bach’s and Handel’s Israelites see Reginald L. SANDERS, “The Israelites in Hamburg and London: C. P. E. Bach’s Die Israeliten in der Wüste and Handels Israelite Oratorios,” Göttinger Händel-Beiträge 11 (Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006).
See excerpts from the last book of Milton’s Paradise Lost: “…God from the mount of Sinai, whose gray top / Shall tremble, he descending, will himself / In thunder, lightning, and loud trumpets' sound, / Ordain them laws; part, such as appertain / To civil justice; part, religious rites / Of sacrifice; informing them, by types / And shadows, of that destined Seed to bruise / The Serpent, by what means he shall achieve Mankind’s deliverance.”
The inconclusive ending of the music of the chorus suggests that the textual extension preceded the composition.
“Was der alten Väter Schaar / höchster Wunsch und Sehnen war, / und was sie geprophezeit, / ist erfüllt nach Herrlichkeit.” (The greatest wish and yearning of our band of forefathers, and what they prophesied, is fulfilled according to your glory.) This is the second stanza of Held’s poem; the first begins with the lines “Gott sei Dank durch alle Welt” (Thank God all over the world).
“Tritt der Schlange Kopf entzwei, Dass ich, aller Ängste frei, Dir im Glauben um und an Selig bleibe zugetan.” (The serpent’s head split in two, / I am now free of all fear / In my Belief and with all my Soul / I remain with you in joy.) From the extant description of the liturgy of the first performance it turns out that in accordance with the Lutheran cantata performance tradition there was a sermon between the two parts of the work. See FINSCHER, “Bemerkungen zu den Oratorien Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs,” 315.
“Hinten im letzten Recitative habe ich aus Ursachen etwas weggelassen und ausgestrichen.” Letter to Breitkopf publishing house, 1775. Cited after Ernst SUCHALLA (ed.), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Briefe und Dokumente. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 1 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), 489; for the English translation see Stephen L. CLARK (ed. and transl.), The Letters of C. P. E. Bach (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 77. For philological details of the first print of the score see Rachel W. WADE, “Filiation and the Editing of Revised and Alternate Versions: Implications for the C. P. E. Bach Edition,” in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Studies, ed. by Stephen L. CLARK (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 286.
For the omitted lines of the libretto see Reginald L. SANDERS (ed.), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The Complete Works, Introduction, xvi, and plate 8.
See H. G. OTTENBERG, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, 313. Bach’s lieder series, the 12 Freymauern-Lieder, openly testifies his close relationship to freemasonry.
“…although there is apparently no evidence that Bach himself was a Freemason, many of his friends were active members, and he cannot have been unsympathetic to Masonic ideals.” See Richard KRAMER, Unfinished Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 85.
“Lass es gute Früchte bringen, die dein Vaterherz erfreun. Lass uns dir, allmächt’ge Güte, unsre Brust zum Tempel weihn!” (Let it bear good fruit, that will gladden your fatherly heart. Let us, almighty Goodness, dedicate our breast to be your temple!).
Gershom SHOLEM, The Messianic Idea in Judaism and other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (New York: Schocken Books, 1971).
“Es ist dieses Oratorium in der Anwendung so eingerichtet worden, daß es nicht just bey einer Art von Feyerlichkeit, sondern zu allen Zeiten, in und außer der Kirche, bloß zum Lobe Gottes, und zwar ohne Anstoß von allen christlichen Religionsverwandten aufgeführt werden kann.” Hamburger Correspondent no. 147 (September 14, 1774). Cited in Reginald L. SANDERS (ed.), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The Complete Works IV/1, Introduction, xi; also in Howard E. SMITHERS, A History of the Oratorio, 348. The subtle liberal shift in his choice of words (“Religionsverwandte” instead of the otherwise customary “Gläubige” in Protestant religious vocabulary) also points to Bach’s enlightened-extended interpretation of the concept of religion.
In fact, the reception history of Messiah in England in Handel’s lifetime unfolded in two separate spheres. Besides concert performances in theaters, the work was performed on ceremonial, but not liturgical occasions, as for example at the coronation of George II or at his wife’s funeral in Westminster Abbey; these representative occasions, performed in church settings, were transformed from 1784 into regular concert-like performances in the same venues. See SMITHERS, Oratorio, vol. 3, 354. Further see Jens Peter LARSEN, “Zur Geschichte der ‘Messias’-Aufführungen,” Händel-Jahrbuch 13/14 (1967–1968), 13. Existing documents on the eighteenth-century performances of Bach’s Die Israeliten in the Wüste, with the exception of the premiere, are very tellingly all concert performances; for a list, see Reginald L. SANDERS (ed.), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The Complete Works, IV/1, Introduction, xiv.
Translated by Julia VAJDA; for a full English translation, see Ernst CASSIRER, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, transl. by Fritz C. A. KOELLN and James P. PETTERGROVE (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951).
Denis DIDEROT, “On the Adequacy of Natural Religion,” in Philosophical Thoughts and Other Texts, transl. by Kirk WATSON (Kindle Edition, 2013).