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What is an oratorio in music?

What is an oratorio? This term means a large musical work written for the orchestra (including the organ), for the choir, as well as for individual singers-soloists. Most often the plot of the oratorio is built on biblical themes.

History of occurrence

In order to understand what an oratorio is in music, one must turn to the history of this concept. It is believed that such a work appeared at the end of the 16th century in the congregation of Oratorians, which was founded by St. Philip Neri in Italy. The name comes from the Latin word "oratorium", which meant a special room intended for praying and meeting members of the congregation.

"On the soul and body" Emilio de Cavalieri - this is the very first work that allows you to understand what an oratorio is in music. The definition shows that this was a new musical form, as it was composed of separate solo phrases that were more diverse, and also accompanied by musical instruments and chorus.

Initially, oratories were written on the main biblical and evangelical themes and were often used to perform directly in the temple on the days of major church holidays. Accordingly, there were Christmas, Easter, passionate and other similar types of this musical work. The very definition of the oratorio's words indicates that this was primarily a prayer, however, over time the musical work becomes more secular and moves to the stage of the theater.

Development of destinations in Italy

Italy is the country where the oratorio originated. Composers Benedetto Ferrari, Agostino Agazzari, Loreto Vitori, Giacomo Carissimi and many others made this piece the way it is today, including the structure, the alternation of choirs, instrumental numbers, and the traditional appeal to biblical texts.

The works of these authors are distinguished by the presence of bright colors, lightness and purity. A special role is also given to Alessandro Scarlatti, whose works were the pinnacle of this musical direction.

Oratorio in Germany

In order to understand what an oratorio is in music, it is impossible not to mention the role of Germany. It is to this country that leadership in the development of this musical work in the 17th century moves. The beginning of this era is laid by the work of "Passion" by Henry Schutz, she presented outside the territory of Italy such a phenomenon as an oratorio. Examples of works in Germany at that time were the following: "Bethulia liberata" by Ignaz Jacob Holzbauer, "La Conversione di S. Agostino" by Johann Adolf Hasse, and also by Antonio Caldara, Niccolo Yomelli, etc. Attention deserves the work of Johannes Mattezon, who moves the oratorio from the Catholic The church in the Protestant. He wrote 24 musical works, the stories for which were taken from the Bible, however, had a connection with the present time. This allowed to show in a different way what an oratorio is.

Handel, Bach and Haydn

This musical direction reached its peak in the work of such geniuses as Handel, Bach and Haydn. These composers managed to breathe new life into this genre and take it from temples to the stage of theaters and concert halls.

Johann Bach completely renovated the traditional German oratorio, giving the world such masterpieces as "Christmas Oratorio", "Easter Oratorio", as well as works of "Passion for John" and "Passion for Matthew." These works are still considered unique and often appear On the scenes.

Joseph Haydn wrote two great works in this genre: "The Creation of the World" and "The Seasons". In his work he used secular texts, which allowed to create oratorios, full of life of a simple man, his joys and sorrows. He was able to combine the richness of the lyrics and the accuracy of the music.

Friedrich Händel differently showed what an oratorio is. The definition of the genre according to this composer is a combination of Italian and German traditions and features. The top of his work consists of such works as "Messiah", "Israel in Egypt", "Samson" and others.

ХІХ century

Since the middle of the XIX century, the structure of the oratorio is changing, and it begins to return to its origins. The work foresees the participation of the audience in the performance of various hymns and chorals. The texts show certain meditations and reflections. The Catholic Church has shown in another way what an oratorio is. The impetus was given to Felix Mendelssohn, who created such masterpieces as "Elijah" and "St. Paul", as well as Franz Liszt with works "The Legend of Saint Elizabeth" and "Christ."

Changes also come to France, where, despite the general love for operas, the audience begins to take an interest in the oratorio. In this period there were such names as Charles Francois Gounod, Camille Saint-Saens, Jules Massenet, Gabriel Pierne and others. Creativity of these composers enjoyed great popularity not only in Europe, but also in America.

The twentieth century and our time

XX century differently shows what an oratorio is. The work is characterized by the use of traditional biblical themes, however, with a deeper interpretation that is connected with serious contemporary issues.

Also this period is characterized by the convergence of the oratorio with other similar genres, including opera and katana. This is especially noticeable in the works of Arthur Honegger, Darius Miyo, Igor Fedorovich Stravinsky and others. There is also a new direction - oratorio-opera. In our time this musical genre is still popular and it can be found on the most famous world scenes.

Differences between opera and cantata

In the 16th-17th century, other musical genres appeared simultaneously with the oratorio, including opera and oratorio. Similar works are characterized by the presence of similar roles for soloists, as well as quite similar genres for chorus and orchestra. Despite this, they also have distinctive characteristics.

If we talk about opera, then this genre is close to the oratorio, however, it has a visible stage effect, in particular, scenery, costumes. These elements are absent in the oratorio. In addition, the opera allows the use of a variety of subjects without the need to focus only on religious texts. Another important distinctive feature is that the oratorio is dominated by the choir, while in the opera each actor has the opportunity to demonstrate his game and talent. Differences also consist in the duration of the work. The oratorio lasts about an hour (maximum two), while the opera is longer.

As for the cantata, the oratorio foresees more solo numbers and more drama. Cantata also differs for a short time, so sometimes it can even be a part of the oratorio. This is typical of Bach's works.


The oratorio is distinguished by the following set of components:

  • Instrumental overture;
  • Recitative. Used to explain the text and plot;
  • Choral arias. Most often this element is responsible for the elevation of the Lord. Arias are accompanied by pipes and timpani.

Depending on the plot and features of the composition, the oratorio can have other additional components. This is determined by the objectives of the impact on the audience and the personal representation of the author.

The oratorio is a major work of a musical nature, which involves the participation of the choir, soloists and symphony orchestra. Traditionally, the basis for the plot of this genre is the biblical texts.

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