Category:Jesus of Nazareth--music (subject)

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List of works of Music on Jesus of Nazareth (in chronological order)

< 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) has been an established custom In Christian Liturgy,

Easter Gospel in Greek

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.

Canto del Passio

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. 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 a voice 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.

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

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

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

The following 92 pages are in this category, out of 92 total.