NSCS Past Seasons

Israel in Egypt

moses-at-red-sea3Israel in Egypt (HWV 54) is a biblical oratorio by the composer George Frideric Handel.  Many historians believe the libretto was compiled by Handel's collaborator Charles Jennens (who wrote the libretto for Messiah), and it is composed entirely of selected passages from the Hebrew Bible, mainly from Exodus and the Psalms.  One of Handel's greatest oratorios, this magnificent work features a series of superb choral pieces — ranging in mood and technique from grim intensity to grandiose jubilation.

Interested in more information about the piece?  Here are some links you might enjoy:

Article about the composition on the "Music with Ease" website. (Music With Ease is a group of music lovers who believe that music -- whether you are listening to it or playing it or just learning more about it -- should always be a pleasure.  They want to help people to share their enjoyment; so on their website they provide extensive, free information on various kinds of music -- classical, opera, and more.)

Excerpt from an interview with Beverly Taylor, who directed the University of Wisconsin Choral Union and Chamber Orchestra in this work in November, 2010:

What distinguishes “Israel in Egypt” as a work of music and does it have any relevance to today? What do you like about it and why did you choose it?

“Israel in Egypt,” along with Handel’s “Messiah,” has more choral music in it than any other oratorio I know.  Although there are some wonderful solos and duets, they take a back seat in number of minutes of the performance to the great choruses.  Unlike “Messiah,” many of the choral movements are written for double chorus.

The UW Chamber Orchestra has some really skilled violinists as well, and I knew they could show their stuff in the wonderful “flies” movement, which describes one of the plagues visited on Egypt.  It’s simply some glorious writing for chorus.

The Exodus story is one that many people can identify with–the need to escape, the sense of being protected in God’s care, while the danger is removed BUT there perhaps are remains of another cultural view in some of Handel’s writing–his aggressive bass duet of God as a god of war is one, and the fact that Handel borrowed some tunes from himself and others meant that occasionally the music might be cheerier than the text!

[for the entire interview, click here.]

Here are excepts describing the piece from the Presto Classical website in the U.K.:

  • Georg Friedrich Händel’s great choral oratorio, “Israel in Egypt” is the most valuable gift the composer ever gave to choral music. The chorus functions as protagonist in this powerful work, which tells the Old Testament story of Exodus with telling dramatic intensity.
  • For more than two and a half centuries Israel in Egypt has remained an exceptional choral work. Of all the oratorios written by the composer, none, not even Messiah attains the variety of its choral and orchestral writing. ... Nowhere else except in his Dixit Dominus does Handel demand so much of the singers of the double chorus. The dramatic potential of the chorus is exploited down to the smallest detail through the use of scoring mostly for eight voices, thus accentuating the effects of mass and contrast. Every device in the choral arsenal is brought into play, including fugue and double fugue, recitative, arioso, homophonic declamation, and the figuralism (word-painting) is taken to the extreme.
  • Set pieces for which the work is most famous include swarming strings representing flies in ‘He spake the word’, the furious brass and timpani in ‘He gave them hailstones for rain’ and the famous depiction of frogs in the aria ‘Their land brought forth frogs’.

Here is a link to the libretto from the Stanford University "Opera Glass" site.