THE very name of Oratorio commemorates the popularization rather than the invention of a form. Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there were frequently performed musical settings of incidents from the Old and New Testaments, deriving in all probability from the old mystery plays. But it was St. Philip Neri, the founder of the congregation of Oratorians, who first laid special stress on the advantages of such pieces for instructional and devotional purposes, introducing them before or after the sermon in the Oratory of his own church in Rome. Hence the title that became attached to them. These performances proved so popular that they were not discontinued after his death, in 1595, On the contrary, his successor, Emilio del Cavalieri, developed them with enthusiasm, for his performances seem to have been more elaborate in every way than St. Philip's. We know that in the most famous of his works, an allegorical piece called The Representatives of the Soul and the Body, there were not only soloists, a chorus and an orchestra hidden in the manner subsequently practised at Bayreuth, but elaborate dresses and a ballet.
Perhaps it is not mere coincidence that this definitely dramatic form of oratorio, as distinct from the hortatory kind, coincided almost exactly with the invention of opera in Florence. As a matter of fact, the oratorio form, so far as Italy was concerned, must, generally speaking, be considered to possess a dramatic rather than a reflective nature. When the subject had no dramatic character, or at any rate was entirely unsuited to performance in action, it was called a cantata. Composers like Carissimi, and his even greater successor Alessandro Scarlatti, practised both forms with equal success. Scarlatti, indeed, one of the greatest composers in the whole history of music, wrote