Oratorio as Exegesis: The Use of the Book of Isaiah in Handel's Messiah

in Biblical Interpretation
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  • 1 Mattersey Hall Graduate School

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Handel's Messiah is among the best-known musical compositions of all time, and it is also heavily dependent upon the Bible for its theme and content, thus making it an ideal source for a study of the Bible in music. In this paper I consider how Handel and his librettist Charles Jennens made use of the text of the book of Isaiah (the single most quoted biblical book in the libretto) in both the words and the music of this great oratorio, offering en route some observations on the features of a musical text that need to be taken into account in 'reading' it in this way.


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