Judas Maccabaeus, Oratorio by George Frideric Handel, 1746

Judas Maccabaeus, an Oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel in 1746. The oratorio was devised as a compliment to the victorious Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland upon his return from the Battle of Culloden (16 April 1746). The oratorio is in three acts:

Part 1
The people mourn the death of their leader Mattathias, but his son Simon tries to restore their faith and calls them to arms (Arm, arm, ye brave). Simon's brother, Judas Maccabaeus, assumes the role of leader and inspires the people with thoughts of liberty and victory through the power of Jehovah.

Part 2
The people have been victorious, but Judas is concerned that vanity will cause the people to claim victory for themselves. When news arrives that the Seleucid commander Gorgias is preparing to enact revenge, the people's joyous mood gives way to wailing and dejection (Ah! wretched Israel!). Again Judas rallies the people (Sound an alarm) and insists that the pagan altars must be destroyed and that false religions must be resisted.

Part 3
Victory has finally been achieved for the Jewish people (See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes!). News arrives that Rome is willing to form an alliance with Judas against the Seleucid empire. The people rejoice that peace has at last come to their country (O lovely peace).

Description by Brian Robins
During Handel's lifetime, Judas Maccabaeus was one of the most popular of all his oratorios. Following its hugely successful first performance at London's Covent Garden Theater on April 1, 1747, the work was subsequently revived during Handel's oratorio seasons every year until his death in 1759, with the single exception of 1749. Yet the oratorio has its genesis in one of the bleaker periods of Handel's life. In 1745 he was forced to abandon his Covent Garden season for lack of support, and he was also in ill-health. Notwithstanding, Judas Maccabaeus was begun in the fall of that year. The work was temporarily laid aside in favor of The Occasional Oratorio, quickly composed and drawing heavily from preexisting material, as Handel's loyalist contribution to the fight to put down the serious Jacobite revolution launched by the Stuarts. Only after the threat of the rebellion's success was lifted following the bloodily conclusive battle of Culloden in April 1746 did Handel again take up the score, completing it on August 11.

With its warlike story of the triumph of a Jewish hero over invading forces, Judas Maccabaeus formed the ideal victory celebration, and was overtly planned as such by Handel and his librettist, the Rev. Thomas Morrell. Indeed the latter designed his book as "a compliment to the Duke of Cumberland upon his returning victorious from Scotland." Its main source is the first book of Maccabees, which appears in the Apocrypha. The oratorio falls into three acts, the first of which opens after one of Handel's finest overtures, with the mourning of the Israelites lamenting the death of Mattathias, the father of Judas Maccabaeus and the leader of Jewish resistance to the invading Syrians. This somber opening sequence includes one of Handel's most famous arias, "Pious orgies," with its mournful tones underpinned by dark bassoons. The Israelites are galvanized by Judas, and the remainder of the oratorio is dominated by a militaristic triumphalism illustrated through some of Handel's grandest and most stirring choruses, among which "Sound an alarm" (Act Two) and "Sing unto God" (Act Three) are notable examples. At the end of the oratorio the exploits of Judas and his forces ensure a peace guaranteed by Roman power, a moment celebrated in one of the oratorio's few moments of repose in "O lovely peace," the lovely pastoral aria sung by the Israelite Woman.

The famous number "See the conqu'ring Hero" is often associated with Judas, but was in fact originally composed for the oratorio's close relative, Joshua (1747); it was only later added to the present work. In keeping with the mood and scale of the work, Handel's lavish scoring includes trumpets, horns, and timpani in addition to the flutes, oboes, and the usual complement of strings. There are solo parts for soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, and two basses in addition to the usual four-part chorus. Judas Maccabaeus is one of the few oratorios to have remained popular from Handel's day through to the twenty-first century. A singular hit with the Jewish population of London at the time, it remains a celebration of the Feast of Hanukkah, which commemorates the events it depicts.

    Overture in G minor
    Mourn, ye afflicted children
    Well may your sorrows
    From this dread scene these, adverse powers
    For Sion lamentation make
    Not vain is all this storm of grief
    Pious orgies, pious airs, decent sorrow
    Oh Father, whose almighty power
    I feel the Deity within
    Arm, ye brave!
    'Tis well, my friends
    Call forth thy powers, my soul
    To Heavens Almighty King we kneel
    Oh liberty, thou choicest treasure
    Come, ever smiling liberty
    Oh Judas, may these noble views
    'Tis liberty, dear liberty alone,
    Come, ever smiling liberty
    Lead on! Judah disdains the galling load of hostile chains
    So will'd my father now at rest
    Disdainful of danger, we'll rush on the foe, Semichorus
    Ambition! If e'er honour was thine aim
    No unhallow'd desire our breasts shall inspire
    Oh Judas, may thy just pursuits
    May balmy peace, and wreath'd renown
    Far brighter than the morning
    Haste we, my brethren
    Hear us, oh Lord
    Fall'n is the foe
    Victorious hero! Fame shall tell
    So rapid thy course is
    May well we hope our freedom receive
    Flowing joys do now surround me
    Sion now her head shall raise
    Oh let eternal honours crown his name,
    From mighty Kings we took the spoil
    Hail, Judea, happy land
    Thanks to my brethren
    How vain is man, who boasts in fight
    Great in wisdom, great in glory
    Oh Judas, of my brethen!
    Oh! wretched Israel!
    Be comforted
    The Lord worketh wonders
    My arms! against his Gorgias
    Sound an alarm! Your silver trumpets sound
    Enough! To heav'n leave the rest
    With pious hearts, and brave as pious
    Ye worshippers of God
    Wise men, flatt'ring may decieve us
    Oh! Never bow we down
    Father of Heav'n!,
    See yon flames, that from the altar broke
    Oh grant it, Heav'n that our long woes
    So shall the lute and harp awake
    From Capharsalama, on eagle wings I fly
    Pow'rful guardians of all nature
    All his mercies I review
    Happy, oh, thrice happy we
    Yet more, Nicanor lies with thousands slain
    But low! The conqueror comes
    See the conqu'ring hero comes!
    March in G major
    March in F major
    Sing unto God, and high affections raise
    Sweet flow the strains, that strike my feasted ear
    With honour let desert be crown'd
    Peace to my countrymen
    Oh! had I Jubal's lyre
    To our great God be all the honour giv'n
    Again the earth let gratitude descend
    Oh lovely peace, with plenty crown'd
    Rejoice, oh Judah! And, in songs divine
    Hallelujah Chorus and Amen
    Supplemental March in E flat major (fragment)

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