Category:Jesus of Nazareth--music (subject)

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List of works of music on Jesus of Nazareth

< Jesus of Nazareth in : Art -- Cinema -- Literature -- Music -- Theatre >

Jesus in Music: An Overview

©2015 Gabriele Boccaccini, University of Michigan

Web Page especially created for the panel presentation on Haendel's Messiah, performed at the University Musical Society (Ann Arbor, MI; December 5, 2015), conducted by Scott Hanoian.

Chanting the Gospel

Since ancient times, chanting the Gospel (in Greek or Latin) has been an established custom In Christian Liturgy,

In Medieval times, we see the development of more complex forms of chanting, usually involving three soloists (the Narrator, voice of Jesus, other voices) and the choir.

The First Oratorios on Jesus

Since the 17th centuries, oratorios were composed focusing on some particular events in the life of Jesus. The Nativity and the Passion of Jesus were the two favorite subjects, for liturgical reasons (oratorios were performed to celebrate Christmas and Easter), but for dramatic reasons too. Out of respect Jesus was not portrayed as a singing or acting character, but when introduced, as a mere singing voice ("Vox Christi"). The Nativity and the Passion are narratives in which Jesus does not utter many words. Given these restraints, it was difficult to conceive an oratorio dealing with the ministry of Jesus and even more so with his entire life.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the most popular Passion text was the socalled Brockes-Passion. Published in 1712, Barthold Heinrich Brockes' libretto was set to music in the following years by numerous composers, including Haendel in 1719.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Between 1724 and 1734, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) composed three celebrated oratorios:

As in the tradition of the previous oratorios, Jesus was not a character, he was merely a voice ("Vox Christi") introduced by the Evangelist/narrator.

See Bach's Matthew Passion

Pietro Metastasio

Italian librettist Pietro Metastasio made fashionable a more dramatic and operatic form of oratorio.

La passione di Gesu' Cristo (The Passion of Jesus Christ, 1730) by Pietro Metastasio was set to music by more than 50 composers, between 1730 and 1812. It was a dramatic oratorio, with Peter, John, Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea as soloists. As Jesus could not be an acting character, he was not present, not even as a singing voice.

And yet no "comprehensive" work on the Life of Jesus was ever composed.

See Metastasio's Passion by Paisiello

Georg Frideric Haendel

The Messiah by Georg Frideric Haendel (mus.) and Charles Jennens (libr.) was the first attempt to give a comprehensive portrait of the life of Jesus by combining three well-established, yet autonomous subjects: the Nativity of Jesus, the Passion of Jesus and the Resurrection of Jesus.

Haendel's problem was to give unity to his work. He knew the tradition of Brockes and Bach and was also familiar with the "new" dramatic style by Pietro Metastasio he used in many of his oratorios.

Like Metastasio, Haendel did not include Jesus as a singing voice, but this only in order to give unity to his work. He did not conceive it as a dramatic oratorio. More similarly to Bach he conceived his work as a choral meditation on the main events of the life of Jesus.

See Royal Choral Society: 'Hallelujah Chorus' from Handel's Messiah

Karl Wilhelm Ramler

The success of Haendel's Messiah influenced also the development of the genre of the Passion oratorio. In the second half of the 18th century, besides the Metastasio Passione, the most popular libretto was Der Tod Jesu (The Death of Jesus / 1755 Ramler), libretto. Like in Haendel's Messiah (and contrary to the earlier Brockes-Passion tradition), Ramler's libretto did not imbue the tenor soloist with the role of narrator or Evangelist, nor was the bass cast as Vox Christi.

By the end of the 18th century, in both the dramatic version of the Passion by Metastasio and the choral version by Haendel, Jesus had disappeared from the stage.

Ludwig van Beethoven

At the beginning of the 19th century a significant event occurred. For the first time in a major musical composition, composer Ludwig van Beethoven and poet Franz Xaver Huber made Jesus a singing character in their oratorio Christus am Ölberge / Christ on the Mount of Olives (1803). The work was a dramatic oratorio in the style of Metastasio rather than a religious choral Mass in the style of Haendel. The tenor sang (and acted) as Jesus (he was no longer a mere singing voice), with the soprano as a seraph (angel) and the bass as Peter.

Beethoven's attempt to transform Jesus into a heroic character was considerate too bold and daring. The oratorio offered indeed a more humanistic portrayal of the Christ passion than other settings, placing the emphasis on Jesus' own decision to accept his fate rather than on the later Crucifixion or Resurrection.

See Aria of Jesus

See Halleluja

Liszt, Draeseke, Ryelandt

19th and 20th century composers went back to the more comfortable model provided by Haendel's oratorio.

  • Christus Rex (Christ the King), op. 79 (1922), for soloists, choir and orchestra; text by Charles Martens. Joseph Ryelandt later dedicated this work, which he considered his masterpiece, to Pope Pius XI, who established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925. Premiered in Brussels, 1925.
Stainer, Penderecki, Pärt

Bach's remained the model for the Passion oratorios and cantatas, where Jesus could be often heard again as a Singing Voice, now mostly in the baritone vocal range.

The 1970s musicals

Beethoven's intuition that Jesus could be a credible character in a dramatic oratorio or musical play was "vindicated" only in the 1970s by the success of two musicals, the first focusing on the Life of Jesus, the other on his Passion:

Stephen Schwartz Victor Garber

Andrew Lloyd Webber Ted Neely

Although no other major Jesus work of music has been composed lately, Beethoven's oratorio, Webber's rock opera, and Schwartz's musical continue to offer singers the possibility to play Jesus

  • Howard E. Smither. History of the Oratorio <4 vols.> 1977-2000.

Performing Jesus (opera & oratorio)

For centuries the idea of Jesus being a singing character in a play sounded blasphemous. In the oratorios Jesus was absent or merely a vox (Vox Christi), with a vocabulary that was strictly limited to his "canonical" words.

In 1803 Ludwig van Beethoven for the first time offered singers the possibility of "being Jesus" on the stage. Most of these early interpreters remain unrecorded but among them are also some famous singers of the time, like James Kendrick Pyne in England and Ferdinando Ceccherini in Italy.

A century of oblivion followed, until a new generation of tenors were protagonists of the rediscovery of the Beethoven oratorio in the 1950s and 1960s. The real break came in the early 1970s with the Jesus movement and two revolutionary works-- the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) by Webber and the musical Godspell (1971) by Schwartz. Suddenly Jesus became alive on stage, a flesh-and-blood character with whom an actor and singer could identify. In 1973 Victor Garber and Ted Neeley gave two powerful performances on the screen, that would define the character of Jesus for generations to come.

1800s Jesus Opera YouTube
1803 <unknown> Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives / 1803 / @1803 Beethoven), Vienna production. world premiere (oratorio)
1814 James Kendrick Pyne Christ on the Mount of Olives = Christus am Ölberge, English ed. (1814 Smart / @1803 Beethoven), London production (oratorio)
1827 Ferdinando Ceccherini Christ on the Mount of Olives = Christus am Ölberge, English ed. (1814 Smart / @1803 Beethoven), London production (oratorio)

1950s Jesus Opera YouTube
1955 Mario-Ratko Delorko Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives / 1955 Swodoba / @1803 Beethoven), sound recording (oratorio)
1957 Fritz Wunderlich Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives / 1957 Spruit / @1803 Beethoven), radio production, sound recording (oratorio)

1960s Jesus Opera YouTube
1962 Jan Peerce Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives / 1962 Scherchen / @1803 Beethoven), sound recording (oratorio)
1963 Reinhold Bartel Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives / 1963 Bloser / @1803 Beethoven), sound recording (oratorio)
1965 Kurt Equiluz Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives / 1965 Josefowitz / @1803 Beethoven), sound recording (oratorio)
1966 Richard Lewis Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives / 1965 Ormandy / @1803 Beethoven), sound recording (oratorio)

1970s Jesus Opera YouTube
1970 Ian Gillan Jesus Christ Superstar (1970 Doggett / @1970 Webber), album musical (opera) <Sept 70> "Gethsemane"
1971 Stephen Nathan Godspell (1971 Tebelak / @1971 Schwartz), New York (Off-Broadway) production, world premiere (musical) <17 May> "All For the Best"
Jeff Fenholt Jesus Christ Superstar (1971 O'Horgan / @1970 Webber), New York (Broadway) production, world premiere (opera) <12 Oct> 1972 Tony Awards
David Essex Godspell (1971 Tebelak / @1971 Schwartz), London (West End) production (musical) <17 Nov>
1972 Lajos Csuha Jézus Krisztus szupersztár = Jesus Christ Superstar, Hungarian ed (1972 / @1970 Webber), Hungarian production (opera)
Trevor White Jesus Christ Superstar (1972 Harbutt, Hughes / @1970 Webber), documentary (opera) "Gethsemane"
Paul Nicholas Jesus Christ Superstar (1972 Sharman / @1970 Webber), London (West End) production (opera) <9 Aug> "Gethsemane"
1973 Victor Garber Godspell (1973 Greene / @1971 Schwartz), feature film (musical) Mar 21
Ted Neeley Jesus Christ Superstar (1973 Jewison / @1970 Webber), feature film (opera) <15 Aug> "Gethsemane"
1975 Camilo Sesto Jesucristo Superstar = Jesus Christ Superstar, Spanish ed. (1975 Azpilicueta / @1970 Webber), Spanish production, sound recording (opera)
1976 -- Godspell (1976 Tebelak / @1971 Schwartz), New York (Broadway) production (musical) Jun 22
1977 William Daniel Grey Jesus Christ Superstar (1977 Grey / @1970 Webber), New York (Broadway) production (opera) Nov 23

1980s Jesus Opera Notes
1984 Pedro Abraira Jesucristo Superstar = Jesus Christ Superstar, Spanish ed. (1984 Azpilicueta / @1970 Webber), Spanish production, sound recording (opera)

1990s Jesus Opera Notes
1992 Ted Neeley Jesus Christ Superstar (1992 Christopher / @1970 Webber), American (Broadway) production (opera)
1996 Steve Balsamo Jesus Christ Superstar (1996 / Dixon / @1970 Webber), London (West End) production, sound recording (opera) Gethsemane (Laurence Olivier Awards 1997)

2000s Jesus Opera Notes
2000 Glenn Carter Jesus Christ Superstar (2000 Edwards, Morris / @1970 Webber), video recording (opera)
2003 Kamil Střihavka Czeck version in concert <Pardubice, 24.11.2003> Full concert
2005 Steven Seale Jesus Christ Superstar (2005 Duddy / @1970 Webber), Amstetten production (opera)

2010s Jesus Opera Notes
2010 Rock Színház Jézus Krisztus szupersztár = Jesus Christ Superstar, Hungarian ed. (2010 / @1970 Webber), Hungarian production, sound recording (opera)
2010 Henrik Wager Jesus Christ Superstar (2010 / @1970 Webber), Essen production (opera)
2011 Hunter Parrish Godspell (2011 Goldstein / @1971 Schwartz), New York (Broadway) production (musical) United States
2012 Paul Nolan Jesus Christ Superstar (2012 McAnuff / @1970 Webber), New York (Broadway) production (opera) Mar 22
Ben Forster Jesus Christ Superstar (2012 Connor / @1970 Webber), video recording (opera) Nov 19
2013 Peter-Jan Kleevens Jesus Christ Superstar (2013 Kleevens / @1970 Webber), video recording (opera) Netherlands
2014 Alexander Klaws Jesus Christ Superstar (2014 Mehmert / @1970 Webber), Dortmund production (opera) Oper Dortmund]
2016 Alexander Klaws Jesus Christ Superstar (2016 Ryser / @1970 Webber), Basel production (opera)
Declan Bennett Jesus Christ Superstar (2016 Sheader / @1970 Webber), London production (opera)
Andreas Schneider Jesus Christ Superstar (2016 Tilch / @1970 Webber), German touring production (opera)

Pages in category "Jesus of Nazareth--music (subject)"

The following 110 pages are in this category, out of 110 total.