Messiah Part II

Messiah Part II
The last page of the Hallelujah chorus, ending Part II, in Handel's manuscript

Messiah (HWV 56), the English-language oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel in 1741, is structured in three parts. This listing covers Part II in a table and comments on individual movements, reflecting the relation of the musical setting to the text. Part I begins with the prophecy of the Messiah and his birth, shows the annunciation to the shepherds and reflects the Messiah's deeds on earth. Part II covers the Passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and the later spreading of the Gospel, concluded by the Hallelujah Chorus. Part III concentrates on Paul's teaching of the resurrection of the dead and Christ's glorification in heaven.

Messiah, the oratorio

The libretto by Charles Jennens is entirely drawn from the Bible, mostly from the King James Bible, whereas several psalms are taken from the Book of Common Prayer.[1][2] The librettist commented: "... the Subject excells every other Subject. The Subject is Messiah ...".[3] Messiah differs from Handel's other oratorios by telling no story, instead offering reflections on different aspects of the Christian Messiah. Christopher Hogwood comments:

Messiah is not a typical Handel oratorio; there are no named characters, as are usually found in Handel’s setting of the Old Testament stories, possibly to avoid charges of blasphemy. It is a meditation rather than a drama of personalities, lyrical in method; the narration of the story is carried on by implication, and there is no dialogue.[4]

Structure and concept

The oratorio's structure follows the liturgical year; Part I corresponding with Advent, Christmas and the life of Jesus, Part II with Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, Part III with the end of the church year, dealing with the end of time, the Resurrection of the dead and Christ's glorification in heaven. The sources are drawn mostly from the Old Testament.[2] Even the birth and death of Jesus are told in the words of the prophet Isaiah, the most prominent source of the libretto. The only true scene of the oratorio is taken from the Gospel of Luke, the annunciation to the shepherds.[5] The imagery of shepherd and lamb features prominently, in the aria "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd", the only extended piece to talk about the Messiah on earth, in the opening of Part II, "Behold the Lamb of God", in the chorus "All we like sheep", and in the closing chorus of the work, "Worthy is the Lamb". Occasionally verses from different biblical sources are combined in one movement, but more often a coherent text section is set in different consecutive movements, such as the first "scene", the annunciation of Christian salvation, as a sequence of three movements, recitative, aria and chorus.


When Handel composed Messiah in London, he was already a successful and experienced composer of Italian operas. He had started in 1713 to also compose sacred music on English texts, such as the Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate. He set many oratorios on English libretti. In Messiah he used practically the same musical means as for those works, namely a structure based on chorus and solo singing. Only a few movements are a duet or a combination of solo and chorus. The solos are typically a combination of recitative and aria. The arias are called Air or Song, some of them have da capo form, but rarely in a strict sense, repeating a first section after a sometimes contrasting middle section. Handel finds various ways to use the format freely, in order to convey the text. The movements marked "Recitative" (Rec.) are "secco", only accompanied by the continuo. Recitatives marked "Accompagnato" (Acc.) are accompanied by additional string instruments. Handel uses four voice parts in both solo and chorus, soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T) and bass (B). Only once is the chorus divided in an upper chorus and a lower chorus, it is SATB otherwise. The orchestra scoring is simple: oboes, strings and basso continuo of harpsichord, violoncello, violone and bassoon. Two trumpets and timpani highlight selected movements, such as the closing movements of Part II, Hallelujah. Handel uses a cantus firmus on long repeated notes especially to illustrate God's speech and majesty, such as "King of Kings" in the Hallelujah chorus.[6]

General notes

The following table is organized by movement numbers. There are two major systems of numbering the movements of Messiah: the historic Novello edition of 1959 (which is based on earlier editions and contains 53 movements), and the Bärenreiter edition of 1972 in the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe. Not counting some short recitatives as separate movements, there are therefore 47 movements. In the table below, the Novello number (Nov) is given first and is the index for the notes to individual movements in the "movements" section, then the Bärenreiter number (Bär).

To emphasise the movements in which the oboes (ob) and the rarely used trumpets (tr) and timpani (ti) play, the summary below does not mention the regular basso continuo and the strings in movements. Details on the development of keys, different tempo markings times within a movement are given in notes on the individual movements. Movements originally in Italian (It) are indicated in the Source column, however the exact origin is supplied in the notes on the movement.

Part II

Nov Bär Title / First line Form Tempo marking Scoring Time Key Source
22 19 Behold the Lamb of God Chorus Largo ob common time G minor
23 20 He was despised Air, Alto Largo common time E-flat major
24 21 Surely, He hath borne our grieves Chorus Largo e staccato ob common time F minor
25 22 And with His stripes we are healed Chorus Alla breve, moderato ob common time F minor
26 23 All we like sheep Chorus Allegro moderato ob common time F major It
27 24 All they that see Him, laugh Accompagnato, Tenor Larghetto common time B minor
29 25 He trusted in God Chorus Allegro ob common time C minor
29 26 Thy rebuke hath broken His heart Accompagnato, Tenor Largo common time various
30 27 Behold, and see Arioso, Tenor Largo e piano common time e minor
31 28 He was cut off out Accompagnato, Tenor common time b minor
32 29 But Thou didst not leave his soul Air, Tenor Andante larghetto common time A major
33 30 Lift up your heads Chorus SSA ATB A tempo ordinario ob common time F major
34 Unto which of the angels Recitative, Tenor common time A major
35 31 Let all the angels of God Chorus Allegro ob common time D major
36 32 Thou art gone up on high Air, Alto Allegro larghetto common time D minor
37 33 The Lord gave the word Chorus Andante allegro ob common time B-flat major
38 34 How beautiful are the feet Duet, Altos Chorus Andante ob common time D minor
39 35 Their sound is gone out Arioso, Tenor Andante larghetto common time F major
40 36 Why do the nations so furiously rage Air, Bass Allegro common time C major
41 37 Let us break their bonds asunder Chorus Allegro e staccato ob 3/4 C major
42 He that dwelleth in heaven Recitative, Tenor common time A major
43 38 Thou shalt break them Air, Tenor Andante 3/4 A minor
44 39 Hallelujah Chorus Allegro tr ti ob common time D major

Part II movements

Scene 1

Scene 1 is the longest scene of the oratorio and reflects the Passion, in Jennens' words "Christ's Passion; the scourging and the agony on the cross", in nine individual movements, including the longest one, the Air for alto "He was despised".[3] Part II is the only part opened by a chorus, and continues to be dominated by choral singing. Block observes that the emphasis on the Passion differs from modern western popular Christianity, which prefers to stress the nativity of the Messiah.[4]


The opening chorus "Behold the Lamb of God" begins like a French overture in G minor, a key of "tragic presentiment", according to Christopher Hogwood.[7] The continuo drops an octave, then the violins rise an octave, to express "Behold". After only three instrumental measures the voices proclaim the Testimony of John the Baptist, John 1:29, which recalls Isaiah 53.[4] The alto begins, followed after half a measure each by the soprano, the bass, and finally the tenor. After the initial rise, the melody falls in dotted rhythms, but rises on "that taketh away the sin of the world". The melody shows similarity to the beginning of "He shall feed his flock", but "sharpened" from major to minor, from triplets to dotted rhythm, and by the octave leap in the beginning.


Isaiah wrote in his Songs of the suffering servant in the fourth song about the Man of Sorrows: "He was despised, rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and aquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Isaiah states in his songs that "the Messiah will play a substitutionary sacrificial role on behalf of his people".[4] Handel gives the pitiful description to the alto solo in the longest movement of the oratorio in terms of duration.[3] It is a da capo aria, showing two contrasting moods, set in E flat major in the first section, C minor in the middle section. The vocal line begins with an ascending fourth on "he was" and adds another one on "despi-sed", ending as a sigh. The signal of a fourth has been observed by musicologist Rudolf Steglich as a unifying motif of the oratorio.[5] Handel breaks the beginning of the text up to a stammering "He was despised, – despised and rejected, – rejected of men, ... – despi-sed – rejected", the words interspersed with rests as long as the words, as if exhausted. Soft sighing motifs of the violins, an echo of the singing, drop into these rests. Hogwood interprets the unaccompanied passages as emphasizing "Christ's abandonment".[7] The middle section is also full of dramatic rests, but now the voice is set on a ceaseless agitated pattern of fast dotted notes in the instruments, illustrating the hits of the smiters in text from the third song (Isaiah 50:6), where the words appear in the first person: "He gave his back – to the smiters – ... and His cheeks – to them – that plucked off the hair. – He hid – not his face – from shame – and spitting."


The dotted rhythm returns in instruments and voices in the chorus "Surely, He hath borne our grieves and carried our sorrows", the continuation of Isaiah's text, set in F minor.


In the same key the chorus continues with a fugue "And with His stripes we are healed". The theme begins with a sequence of five long notes, which Mozart quoted in the Kyrie-fugue of his Requiem. The characteristic ascending fourth opens the countersubject. The word "healed" is later stressed by both long melismas and long notes.


Still continuing Isaiah's text, "All we like sheep, have gone astray" is set as a fast chorus in F-major on a walking bass with irregular patterns and leaps. The voices utter twice together "All we like sheep", then two voice parts move simultaneously in different directions on "have gone astray", with the last syllable extended to eleven notes. The next bit of the text "we have turned" is illustrated by fast coloraturas, lacking direction. In a dramatic sudden adagio, full of chromatic tension, the movement ends on "and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all". Myers comments about the chorus, which seems out of place at first sight: "In Handel’s famous chorus sin glories in its shame with almost alcoholic exhilaration. His lost sheep meander hopelessly through a wealth of intricate semi quavers, stumbling over decorous roulades and falling into mazes of counterpoint that prove inextricable. A less dramatic composer than Handel would scarcely have rendered his solemn English text with such defiance, for the discrepancy between the self-accusing words and his vivacious music is patent to any listener emancipated from the lethargy of custom."[8] The movement is based on the duet for two sopranos "Nò, di voi non vo' fidarmi" (HWV 189, July 1741).[9]


The thought "All they that see Him, laugh Him to scorn" is taken from Psalm 22 (Psalms 22:7), the psalm from which Jesus quoted on the cross, according to Mark and Matthew. The text is set as a short tenor accompagnato, again based on a pattern of dotted notes in the instruments. The strings through in violent figures after "laugh Him to scorn" and "shoot our their lips", similar to an outburst of laughter. The key of B flat minor is termed "remote and barbarous" by Hogwood.[7]


What they say is given to the chorus as a strict fugue in C minor: "He trusted in God, that He would deliver Him, if He delight in Him." Jonathan Keates observes that Handel depicts the mocking, menacing crowd here, comparable to the turbae in Bach's Passions.[10]


The tenor returns to sing a verse of the Psalm 69: "Thy rebuke hath broken His heart" (Psalms 69:20). Aching chromatic chords picture the broken heart. The accompagnato begins in A flat minor, shifts without stability and ends in B major. The tenor voice, going to report death and resurrection in scene 2, is comparable to the Evangelist in the Passions of Bach.[10]


The tenor arioso "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow" (Lamentations 1:12) is based on text from the Book of Lamentations which is frequently associated with Good Friday, both Jesus and his mother Mary, although it originally lamented the destruction of Jerusalem. In the short movement in E minor, the accompaniment pauses rather regularly on the first and third beat of a measure.

Scene 2

Scene 2 covers death and resurrection in two tenor solo movements.


In a restrained way, the death of the Messiah is told in another tenor accompagnato, as foretold by Isaiah, "He was cut off out of the land of the living" (Isaiah 53:8). Long chords begin in B minor and end in E major.


His resurrection is again told by the tenor in an Air according to Psalm 16, "But Thou didst not leave his soul in hell" (Psalms 16:10).

Scene 3

Scene 3 refers in a chorus to the ascension.


"Lift up your heads" is a line from Psalm 24 (Psalms 24:7–10). Since the text has questions ("Who is the King of Glory?") and answers ("He is the King of Glory"), Handel divides the choir in the first section to a high, announcing group (sopranos I and II, alto) and a low, questioning group (alto, tenor, bass).

Scene 4

Scene 4 covers the Messiah's position in heaven, following Paul's teaching from the Epistle to the Hebrews in two verses, Hebrews 1:5–6.


In a short recitative the tenor renders the first verse, quoting Psalm 2, Psalms 2:7, about the Messiah as the begotten Son of God.


The second verse "Let all the angels of God worship Him" is a festive chorus" in D major.

Scene 5

Scene 5 alludes to Pentecost and the beginning of preaching the Gospel.


Pentecost is referred to rather indirectly, without naming the Holy Spirit. "Thou art gone up on high" from Psalm 68 (Psalms 68:18) reflects "gifts for men" and "that God might dwell among them", expressed in an alto Air in F major in swinging 3/4 time. Handel wrote the Air in London in 1750 for the castrato Gaetano Guadagni.[10]


The thoughts are continued in an earlier verse from the same psalm (Psalms 68:11) as a chorus in B flat major. "The Lord gave the word" is sung by just two voice parts, "Great was the company of the preachers" expanded for four parts with long coloraturas on "company".


The preachers are described tenderly in B flat major and 3/4 time, as written first by Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7) and quoted by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (Romans 10:15: "How beautiful are the feet of Him". Two alto voices begin and are joined by the choir, stressing "good tidings", "break forth into joy" and culminating on a cantus firmus of one repeated note: "Thy God reigneth!" Block, quoting Genesis 18:2, reflects that you see the feet of a messenger if you "fall prostrate before a superior. In the Bible, when people are confronted by a heavenly messenger (angel) the natural response is to fall down on one’s face before the messenger."[4]


Based on a number of Bible references, a tenor arioso describes the preachers further: "Their sound is gone out into all lands" (Romans 10:18, Psalms 19:4).

Scene 6

Scene 6 shows the difficulties and rejection of the preaching, based on four consecutive verses from Psalm 2, Psalms 2:1–4. It is the first text in the oratorio actually referring to the Messiah, the "anointed one" (verse 2).[4]


An Air for bass in C major, accompanied by an orchestra in continuous motion, tells of the difficulties. "Why do the nations so furiously rage together". The term "rage" is expressed by a long melisma in triplets.


The choir continues the thought; the intention "Let us break their bonds asunder" is expressed in a fast succession of entries of the voices.


The text continues in a short tenor recitative: "He that dwelleth in heaven".

Scene 7

Scene 7 is called "God's triumph" by Jennens.


A forceful Air for tenor tells of God's power against enemies, again taken from Psalm 2: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron" (Psalms 2:9).


Part II closes with the chorus "Hallelujah", in the brilliant key of D major with trumpets and timpani. The choir introduces in homophony a characteristic simple motif on the word, playing with the interval of a second, which re-appears throughout the piece. Several lines from the Book of Revelation (Revelation 19:6,16, Revelation 11:15) are treated differently, as in a motet, but unified by "Hallelujah" as a conclusion or as a countersubject in a fugal section. The line "for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" is sung by all voices, first in unison, the in imitation with Hallelujah-exclamations interspersed. The second line "The kingdom of this world" is sung in a four part setting like a chorale. The third idea "and he shall reign for ever and ever" starts as a fugue on a theme with bold leaps, reminiscent in sequence of Philipp Nicolai's Lutheran chorale Wachet auf.[7] As a countersubject, the words "for ever – and ever" assume the rhythm of the Hallelujah-motif. The final acclamation "King of Kings ..." is sung on one note, energized by repeated calls "Hallelujah" and "for ever – and ever", raised higher and higher, up to a rest full of tension and a final solemn "Hallelujah".

Block recalls the romantic view of Handel in "the story (which is incapable of confirmation) that while he was composing this piece he imagined seeing heaven before his very eyes and 'the great God Himself' enthroned in glory. And whatever the origin of the custom, the piece has such emotional power that to this day in the English speaking world audiences rise as if in prayer as soon as the opening notes are struck. At the risk of pretending to know anything about the history of music, from what I know about their respective works, here, more than anywhere in the composition and anywhere in Bach, with Italian operatic flair Handel appears to have written for the applause of the audience."[4]

See also

For general information on the work see Messiah (Handel)
For the full text, scriptural references and sound samples, see Messiah on Wikisource
For the structure of the parts and the Biblical sources see Messiah structure
For details on Part I see Messiah Part I
For details on Part III see Messiah Part III


  1. ^ David Vickers. "Messiah (HWV 56) "A Sacred Oratorio"". Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  2. ^ a b David R. Powell (2009). "The Bible and Handel’s Messiah: Some Sources on Their Relation and Use". Theological Librarianship, An Online Journal of the American Theological Library Association. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Simon Heighes (1997). "George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) / Messiah Simon Heighes, for The Sixteen recording, Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder"]. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Daniel I. Block (2001). "Handel’s Messiah: Biblical and Theological Perspectives". Didaskalia. Retrieved 19 July 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Richard Luckett (1992). Handel's Messiah: A Celebration. London: Victor Gollancz. ISBN 0-575-05285-4. 
  6. ^ Donald Burrows (1991). Handel: Messiah. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37620-3. 
  7. ^ a b c d Christopher Hogwood (1991). Handel: Messiah (CD). The Decca Recording Company Ltd.  (Notes on the music, Edition de L'Oiseau-Lyre 430 488–2)
  8. ^ Robert Manson Myers (1948). Handel’s Messiah: A Touchstone of Taste. New York: Macmillan. 
  9. ^ "G. F. Handel's Compositions HWV 101–200". Retrieved 19 July 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c Jonathan Keates (2007). "Handel Messiah". Barbican Centre. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 

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