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Handel's Oratorios

            As the popularity of Italian Opera faded, Handel turned to another up-and-coming popular genre, the oratorio. During 1706-1710 Handel lived in Italy and composed his first two oratorios. Over the course of the next few years, he created a series of works that became some of the most popular in all of the western tradition. Most famous among these was his telling of the life of Jesus, his "Messiah" (1792), and the "Hallelujah Chorus" from this work is arguably the most recognizable piece of western classical music. "Messiah" is by far the best known of all English oratorios. It's three parts deal with the birth, passion and resurrection of Christ, using dialect derived from the book of Psalms in the Bible. The work was completed and first performed in 1742 and later repeated annually in London. Some of his other oratorios include "Israel in Egypt", "Judas Maccabaeus", "Samson", "Milton", and "Soloman". The Old Testament provided the basis for most of them, but he sometimes experimented, using classical mythology or Christian history. Handel was very successful in the re-use of his ideas and the use of others (though generally avoiding being caught). This borrowing could have been anything from a brief segment to entire movements, but often he changed them to his own style. During his last decade he gave regular performances of "Messiah", usually with sixteen singers and an orchestra of about forty. His last oratorio, composed, as he grew blind, was "Jeptha". Handel's output as a composer declined in his later years, but he continued to conduct and perform (mainly as an organist). Ironically, it was at the end of a performance of "Messiah" that he collapsed, dying three days later.

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