A Musical Companion: A Guide to the Understanding and Enjoyment of Music

By John Erskine | Go to book overview

ORATORIO AND OTHER CHORAL MUSIC

CHAPTER I
ORIGINS

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

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A Musical Companion: A Guide to the Understanding and Enjoyment of Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Music *
  • Title Page i
  • Acknowledgment iii
  • Introductory Note v
  • Contents ix
  • Book I - The ABC of Music 1
  • Musical Notation 3
  • The Fundamentals of Music 19
  • Form 27
  • The Orchestra and Other Instruments 39
  • Book II - The Orchestra and Orchestral Music 53
  • The Rise of the Orchestra 55
  • The Expansion of the Orchestra 78
  • The Orchestra as Instrument 93
  • Orchestral Music; "Absolute" Music and the Symphonists 130
  • Orchestral Music of Mantkinds 174
  • Book III - Opera 189
  • How Opera Arose 191
  • The Eighteenth Century 207
  • From Mozart to Wagner 223
  • From Verdi to the Present Day 241
  • Book IV - The Human Voice 259
  • By Way of Introduction 261
  • The Polyphonic Period 268
  • English Song 284
  • Folk-Song 294
  • Oratorio and Other Choral Music 301
  • European Song in the Nineteenth Century 314
  • Vocal Music in the Twentieth Century 330
  • Book V - Chamber Music 341
  • Before Beethoven 343
  • From Beethoven to Brahms 364
  • National Schools 382
  • Britain 405
  • Modernism 421
  • Book VI - The Solo Instrument 431
  • Keyboard Instruments 433
  • Pianoforte and Violin Sonatas and Duets 468
  • The Violin in Solo and Concerto 477
  • The Violoncello and the Viola 490
  • Glossary and Index 501
  • A Short Glossary of Musical Terms 503
  • Index 517
  • A Note on the Type In Which This Book is Set 552
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