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Handel’s favorite instrument was always the human voice. Besides Oratorios and Operas, he wrote fine music for other occasions, some of which are listed below with summaries. These are all fine pieces, and between them show a great range.
Being shorter and less costly to perform than his dramatic works, it is a shame they are not heard more often. Below are a few that a newcommer to Handel might start with, and click on the music for a Playlist of Handel's Vocal Music.
- Dixit Dominus (1707)
- Brockes Passion (1715)
- Chandos Anthems (1718)
- Coronation Anthems (1727)
- Funeral Ode for Queen Caroline (1737)
- Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739)
- Dettingen Te Deum (1743)
Dixit Dominus (1707)
When Handel was 22 and traveling through Italy he wrote the Dixit. His genius is immediately apparent from the energetic first chorus, and the following movements are varied and dynamic. The penultimate soprano duet is almost hauntingly beautiful, and I've seen the final chorus alone make believers (in Handel that is) out of skeptics. Everyone should hear this piece, particulary fans of German and Italian Baroque, since it shows Handel before he was influenced by English music.
Brockes Passion (1715)
At the age of thirty Handel wrote his most important German piece, the Brockes Passion. Though in the choruses it comes short of his English oratorios, it was quite respected and influenced even the Passion settings written by Bach. The work takes its name from Barthold Heinrich Brockes, the German poet who wrote the libretto.
Chandos Anthems (1718)
An early set of anthems with words taken from various Psalms. There are eleven altogether, expressing a variety of moods, and all demonstrating the effervescent and outgoing aspect of Handel’s nature. We see here a composer who understands the collective spirit than an anthem demands.
Coronation Anthems (1727)
After arriving in England, Handel wisely wrote some flattering patriotic music to please his royal patrons. These anthems have been heard at every English coronation for the last 275 years, probably because no one has yet surpassed them. The are all upbeat and very fun (especially The King Shall Rejoice and Zadok the Priest), with lots of trumpets and Hallelujahs, and all are highly recommended.
Funeral Ode for Queen Caroline (1737)
This beautifully solemn piece shows the other side of ceremonial music. When Queen Caroline died in 1737 Handel wrote this mournful tribute. Later he used it in his oratorio Israel in Egypt to represent the Jews mourning the death of Joseph. It's a brilliant piece, but a bit difficult to find. Mozart pays homage to it by reworking the first movement for his Requiem.
Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739)
Cecilia was the patron saint of music, and it was a tradition in England to celebrate November 22nd with poems and music in her honor. 1939 marked the debut of Handel's contribution, using a poem by John Dryden (which can conveniently be found here). The result is a wonderfully carefree tribute to music itself, beginning with the creation of harmony out of the primordial chaos. Successive arias celebrate the power of music to evoke various passions, and each instrument gets it chance to shine. The final chorus looks ahead to the end of all things.
The trumpet shall be heard on high:
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky.
Handel's enthusiasm for the subject could not be clearer. You simply must hear this piece.
Dettingen Te Deum (1743)
Handel actually has several Te Deum settings; this is merely his best. It celebrates the victory over the French at Dettingen with about 15 movements and a five part chorus. The words are traditional English litanies expressing thanks to God, but the music never fails to be dramatic and lively. It begins with some amazing trumpet work (sounding very modern for Baroque), and ends with a moving alto solo and chorus. A pretty easy piece to find, and one that should not be missed. Next Page
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