The libretto of Messiah is taken from numerous books of the Bible: Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Lamentations, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, and Revelation. If you’re not familiar with the passages selected by Jennens, you can find them at the above link.
The first passage sung in Messiah is from Isaiah 40:1–4. In “Comfort Ye My People,” I included a video of that aria.
The chorus then comes in to sing Isaiah 40:5.
In Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People, Calvin Stapert writes the aria of the first four verses,
“leads to the climactic chorus: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” …The text features four components. Handel gave each its own characteristic musical gesture and combined them in a variety of ways within the overall framework of a lively dance.
“The phrase “And the glory of the Lord” is always sung to a rising line that reaches its peak on “Lord.”
“”Shall be revealed” always descends, suggesting the incarnation…”
“”And all flesh shall see it together” is suggestive of a down-to-earth, rustic dance; its music is simple, repetitive, and rhythmically infectious.
“The fourth phrase, “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it,” stands out from the rest. To suggest the rock-solid certainty of God’s word, Handel set the phrase to long, strong, repeated notes. It is sung only by the outer voices,1 framing the music from top to bottom.”2
Here is the chorus:
Only a few verses later, Isaiah assures us of the “rock-solid certainty of God’s word.”
But the word of our God stands forever.
Romano d’Ezzelino. Opera esposta alla Mostra dei Presepi. Roberto frison. Public domain.
1“Outer voices are the highest voice (soprano) and the lowest voice (bass), and the inner voices are all the other voices that are between the two outer voices.”
2Calvin R. Stapert, Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 2010) 92. I’ve broken the paragraph up and italicized the Scripture for easier reading and contrast.
Libretto: Old and New Testament Passages selected by Charles Jennens
Oratorio: George Frideric Handel
Theophil Asamoah-Gyadu conducting the Ghana Gramophone Chorus.
Copyright ©2012–2022 Iwana Carpenter