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ClassicsOnline Home » HANDEL: Tobit
Compiled by John Christopher Smith from Handel’s operas, oratorios and other works,
the oratorio Tobit, sometimes described as a pastiche, provided a winning synthesis of
religion and entertainment at a time when newly-minted oratorios, drawing chiefly on
biblical subjects were in vogue. The story of the pious and steadfast Tobit (Tobias the
elder) is taken from the apocryphal Book of Tobias, in which he is persecuted for burying
the dead. Patient in adversity, Tobit is finally restored to health and prosperity, while his
son, Tobias, is safely married to Sarah.
By Richard Gate
The singers are very close-miked and this is very exciting. The audio range is restrained; it is a typical EMI recording from the 1950s and the tape hiss is evident. Frankly, this is preferable to the practice of lopping the top off older recordings to make them more palatable to a digitally attuned audience.
This boxed set comes with seven extra tracks of music from the opera, comprising historical recordings from Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill (1950), Blanche Thebem (1950), Ezio Pinza (1946), Marian Anderson (1928), Mattia Battisini (1913) and Merta Seinemeyer (1927). They display a range of singing and acting styles that illuminate the work.
By David Denton
Though Naxos is marketing this as a work by Handel, it is in fact a pastiche
by John Christopher Smith who 'borrowed' music from Handel�s operas, oratorios
and other works. I suppose you would kindly describe Smith as an 'opportunist',
who finding he had inherited Handel's scores from his father - who had acted
as the composer's copyist - was not slow in using them for his own financial
gain. He enlisted the help of Thomas Morell to supply a suitable libretto to
fit the chosen music, and used various sources in creating the musical story.
It relates the legend of the pious and steadfast Tobit (Tobias the elder) who
becomes blind and sends his son also called Tobit to collect money owed. A guiding
hand passes him through trials and tribulations until he arrives back home able
to cure his father's blindness, and everyone lives happily thereafter. It is
a quite extensive score of similar length to Messiah, Smith, offering
a semblance of creativity, adding the music for recitatives. He was not shy
of cherry-picking from works that would have been popular at the time, the score
opening with the overture to the opera, Tamerlano. Today most of the
works have fallen from the repertoire, and we might even show gratitude to Smith
for his recycling act. Sung in English - I think - by an international cast
from both sides of the Atlantic, and I am vocally impressed by the Canadian
soprano, Linda Perillo, a singer specialising in this era, and by the tenor,
Knut Schoch, an expert in Baroque performance. Maya Boog is at times troubled
in fast decorative passages, and after an early period of edgy intonation, Barbara
Hannigan settles into a pleasing light voice. The Choir sounds fresh and energetic,
while the Frankfurt Baroque produces that sound we would have heard in Handel's
time. There are few mishaps in the one 'live' performance that gave rise to
the recording made in 2001, the sound quite close but with a warm ambience.
This is the only available recording.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
An Oratorio in Three Parts compiled by John Christopher Smith (1712-1795)
Libretto by Thomas Morell
Anna - Maya Boog (soprano)
Sarah - Linda Perillo (soprano)
Azarias / Raphael - Barbara Hannigan (soprano)
Tobias - Alison Browner (mezzo-Soprano)
Tobit - Knut Schoch (tenor)
Raguel - Stephan MacLeod (bass)
Chorus of Ninevites, Chorus of Israelites - Junge Kantorei
Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra
Joachim Carlos Martini
Georg Friedrich Händel, later more generally known under the English forms of name that he assumed in London, George Frideric Handel, was born in Halle in 1685, the son of a successful barber-surgeon and his much younger, second wife. His father opposed his son's early musical ambitions and after his father's death Handel duly entered the University in Halle in 1702 as a student of law, as his father had insisted. He was able to seize the chance of employment as organist at the Calvinist Cathedral the following month, holding the position for a year, until his departure for Hamburg, to work there at the opera, at first as a violinist and then as harpsichordist and composer, contributing in the latter capacity to the Italian operatic repertoire of the house. At the invitation of the son of the Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany, he travelled, in 1706, to Italy, where he won considerable success during the next four years. Connections he had made in Venice, brought appointment in 1710 as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover. From here he was granted immediate leave to fulfil a commission in London.
Handel's first opera for London was Rinaldo, with which he won general acclaim, and after little over a year in Hanover, he returned to England. It was here that he now established himself as a composer of Italian opera and of other forms of vocal and instrumental music, for which there was an eager audience, gradually achieving a dominant position in the musical life of the English capital. His involvement with Italian opera as a composer and organizer continued, eventually under the royal patronage of George I, Elector of Hanover, who had succeeded to the English throne in 1715, on the death of Queen Anne, but by 1733, with the establishment of a rival opera company under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, there were obvious commercial difficulties.
While Handel's work in Italian opera continued, with a final opera to be staged in 1741, he increasingly turned his attention to a new English form, that of the oratorio. This had certain very practical advantages, in language, lack of the need for expensive spectacle and the increasing employment of native singers. The content of oratorios appealed to English Protestant susceptibilities, providing a winning synthesis of religion and entertainment, and offering no offence to those who had found operatic conventions ridiculous in a city with strong pre-existent dramatic traditions. Handel's first English oratorio, in 1732, was Esther, with a libretto based on Racine, followed, in 1733, by the biblical Deborah in March and in July Athalia, with a libretto by Samuel Humphreys, his earlier collaborator, derived from Racine and biblical sources. The next English oratorio relying on biblical sources was Saul, first performed at the King's Theatre in London on 16 January 1739 and revived on a number of subsequent occasions.
During the following years Handel continued to develop the form of the oratorio, chiefly on biblical subjects but with an occasional excursion into the mythological. These works, with their Italianate melodies, strong choral writing and demonstrable dramatic sense, ensured their composer's continued popularity and dominance, particularly, after his death, with the wider development of choral singing in the nineteenth century. Handel's most famous oratorio, Messiah, was first performed in 1742, his last, Jephtha, ten years later. While Messiah may be exceptional in its ambitious subject, most of his oratorios treat narratives derived from the Old Testament, well characterized by the composer's own descriptive title of them as sacred dramas.
Handel died in London in April 1759 and was buried, as he had requested, in Westminster Abbey, to be commemorated there three years later by an imaginative and slightly improbable monument by Louis François Roubiliac, who had provided, thirty years before, a statue of the composer, in his night-cap and slippers, as Apollo, for the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall, an indication of his popular reputation. His funeral drew a crowd of some three thousand mourners, while posthumous Handel celebrations could muster a similar audience in the Abbey, with a proportionate number of performers.
Tobit and John Christopher Smith
The performances dates of the oratorio Tobit are unknown, but the work has been conjecturally dated to 1764, when Smith's other Handelian pasticcio Nabal was first given. Pencil markings in the surviving score indicate that there was at least one performance. The work re-appeared in 1856 in the catalogue of the Bristol bookseller Thomas Kerslake, to be bought, among other items that had belonged to John Christopher Smith the younger, by Victor Schoelcher. The collection included Handel's conducting scores, which Schoelcher sold, together with some of Smith's own work, to the city of Hamburg, keeping some of Smith's compositions for himself. These last were included in Schoelcher's gift to the Paris Conservatoire, and came into the possession of the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1964. Included were manuscripts of four oratorios by Smith, Redemption, Tobit, Gideon and Nabal, subsequently rediscovered and brought to wider attention by the scholar Richard G. King (qv. Music and Letters, Vol.79, No.2, 1998).
Johann Christoph Schmidt the elder was born in Kitzingen in 1683, the son of a respected tradesman and town councillor, and may, perhaps, have met Handel at the University in Halle, during the latter's brief period as a student there. At all events, with the death of his father in 1704 Schmidt moved the following year to Nuremberg and shortly afterwards to Ansbach, where he married, and after the death of his wife in childbirth in 1708 took a second wife, the mother of his four children. In 1716 he accepted an invitation from Handel, who was visiting Ansbach, to work with him in London, later to be joined there by his wife and three surviving children. His first son and second child, given the same name as his father, to the confusion of later writers, also followed his father in changing his name to the English John Christopher Smith.
John Christopher Smith the elder served Handel as a principal copyist and assistant until the composer's death in 1759, and thereupon received as a bequest Handel's manuscripts, a collection that passed to his son after his own death in 1763. The Handel autographs were bequeathed in 1795 to King George III and are now, with the rest of the Royal Music Library, held by the British Library, while the conducting scores were left to the younger Smith's stepdaughter, eventually to be auctioned in 1851.
The younger John Christopher Smith, born in Ansbach in 1712, had his schooling in London. At the age of thirteen he had keyboard lessons from Handel and studied composition with Thomas Roseingrave and Johann Christoph Pepusch, winning an early reputation as a music teacher and, to a lesser extent, as a composer. In the 1750s he helped Handel in the performance of oratorios, particularly after the latter's blindness, and served as unpaid organist and choirmaster at the Foundling Hospital, where he conducted regular annual performances of Messiah for a number of years after Handel's death. He also collaborated with David Garrick in three operas. From 1762 he was Master of Music to the Princess of Wales, serving in this capacity until the latter's death in 1772. Two years later he retired to Bath, where he died in 1795.
Smith enjoyed a significant reputation in the musical life of London, but preferred the society of leading figures in other professions. His first wife was the sister of the future Lord Longford, and after her death and those of his own children by her, he married the widow of the Royal Physician, Dr Foxe, assuming responsibility for her children. His connection with Handel was an important one and his possession of Handel's conducting scores and autographs put him in an unrivalled position when it came to continuing the regular annual series of oratorios that had been initiated in Handel's lifetime. From 1760 until his retirement he collaborated with the blind organist and composer John Stanley in the provision of oratorios performed in London on Fridays in Lent. He had had his first attempt at the genre with his David's Lamentations over Saul and Jonathan in 1740, followed twenty years later by Paradise Lost, based on Milton, but Handel remained the overwhelmingly popular composer in the form.
The pasticcio, a form of composite work bringing together excerpts from other works, often by different composers, had, by the early eighteenth century, a sound commercial purpose. Employed particularly in opera, it came to offer an equally useful vehicle for new-minted oratorios. Smith had a stock of Handelian material on which to draw, and had offered his first oratorio derived from Handel with his Rebecca on 16 March 1764. The same occasion brought the Handelian pastiche Nabal, with a libretto by Thomas Morell, who had provided Handel with libretti for Judas Maccabaeus, Alexander Balus, Theodora and Jephtha, and probably also for Joshua. For Handel's English version of an earlier work under the new title of The Triumph of Time and Truth he had written a text that fitted the existing music, and for Nabal he performed the same task, as he was to do for Smith's Handelian Tobit and for Gideon, fitting the words to the music. The surviving manuscript wordbook of Part III of Tobit gives some indication of the care Morell took in showing Smith how the text was to be fitted to the music.
Thomas Morell, described by Winton Dean as 'of a convivial and improvident disposition', was an old Etonian and a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, through which he held the living of Turnham Green (a living in gift of the college). His association with Handel had come about in 1746 on the recommendation of the Prince of Wales, although his academic, literary and musical interests were not matched by any great skill as a writer. The story of Tobit is taken from the apocryphal book of that name, from the Greek Septuagint and part of the Bible accepted by Catholic and largely by Orthodox Christians, but not part of the Protestant or Jewish biblical canon.
The Book of Tobias tells of the pious and patient Tobias the elder (Tobit), whose steadfastness had earned the favour of King Salmanasar of Nineveh, where the Jews had been carried off into captivity. Tobias had done much to help his compatriots, and had been able to lend ten talents of silver to a fellow-Jew in Media. On the death of the King, Tobias finds himself persecuted by his successor, Sennacherib, not least for his piety in burying the dead. Reproached by his wife Anna, amid the faithlessness of other Jews, Tobias sufferes greatly, finally afflicted in his need and poverty by blindness. He sends his only son, also called Tobias, to collect the money lent in Media, and young Tobias finds a companion to travel with him, Azarias, in fact the angel Raphael in disguise. During the course of their journey Tobias is attacked by a great fish, while bathing in the River Tigris, but is rescued by Azarias, who tells him to keep the liver and the gall of the fish; they eat the rest of it, salting some down for the rest of their journey. In Media they are entertained by a kinsman, Raguel, whose daughter, Sarah has been accused of being a murderess, seven husbands of hers having died on their wedding night, through the intervention of a devil. Tobias, however, marries Sarah and exorcises the demon, on the advice of Azarias, by burning the liver of the fish, and abstaining from intercourse with his wife on the first days of their marriage. He sets out home again, with his wife and the flocks and herds given him by Raguel, and reaching his father's house, cures the old man of his blindness by applying fish-gall to his eyes. All ends happily, with the young Tobias looking after his parents, who enjoy the usual biblical longevity, until their death and then performing the same service for Raguel and his wife, while Nineveh is destroyed. It will be seen that the oratorio expects some previous knowledge of the story, as a number of elements in the original narrative are omitted.
[CD 1 / Track 1] The oratorio starts with an Overture, replete with slow introduction, fugal Allegro and a final Menuet. [1/2] In a recitative a Ninevite praises the King. [1/3] The people of Nineveh join in praise of Baal and of the King. [1/4] A scene follows with Tobit and the Israelites. In a recitative Tobit tells of the murder of his friend and kinsman Achior, after a meal at Tobit's house, and how he has buried him. [1/5] Tobit laments the circumstances in which the Jews must live, joined in his prayers by the Israelites. [1/6] Tobit's son, Tobias, claims that the Lord has heard his prayer. [1/7] In an air he praises the mercy of God. [1/8] His mother, Anna, urges caution on her husband Tobit, who should not provoke King Sennacherib by burying the dead, but Tobit claims that this was his pious duty. [1/9] In a duet Anna and Tobit dispute the rightness of his action. [1/10] In the following recitative Tobit can see no danger in what he has done. [1/11] Tobias, in an air, sings of the greatness of God. [1/12] The Israelites follow, with their faith in the power of God to defend what is right.
[1/13] A Sinfonia marks a change of scene. [1/14] In the house of Raguel in Media his daughter Sarah laments her fate, regarded as a murderess, her innocence only known to God. [1/15] She prays to God to turn the hearts of the sinful people among whom she lives. [1/16] Raguel tries to comfort her, [1/17] going on, in an air, to praise the justice of God. [1/18] Part 1 ends with a chorus in praise of the power of Heaven.
[1/19] Part 2 starts with a Sinfonia. [1/20] Tobit laments his sudden blindness. [1/21] Nevertheless he praises Jehovah. [1/22] He is joined by Tobias and his friend Azarias, who is welcomed by Tobit and charged with accompanying Tobias into Media. [1/23] Azarias declares his faith in God, [1/24] and the people add their blessing for the journey the two young men will undertake. [1/25] In a recitative a Ninevite mocks Tobit, whose piety has been rewarded by blindness. [1/26] The Ninevites follow with praise of their god Baal. [1/27] The scene closes with a Ritornello. [1/28] Tobit feels pain at the boasts of the infidels, but his wife Anna tells him that he should conform to the customs and rites of Nineveh. [1/29] She may now never see her son Tobias again. [1/30] She expresses her sorrow, [1/31] and the following air claims she would prefer death.
[1/32] A Sinfonia marks a change of scene. [1/33] Tobias is grateful to Azarias, who has saved him from a monstrous fish, when he bathed in the Tigris. Azarias claims that the rescue of Tobias was the work of Providence.
[2/1] Azarias praises God. [2/2] In the following duet he comforts Tobias, who joins him in his trust in God. [2/3] The voices of the faithful people bring further comfort to his heart. [2/4] A Sinfonia is heard. [2/5] Raguel tells Sarah of his happiness in their guests, Azarias and their kinsman Tobias. Sarah has been captivated by one of the guests. [2/6] She is resigned, however, to her fate. [2/7] Tobias too has fallen in love with Sarah, distracted from his journey. Azarias suggests they join their host in the banquet he offers. [2/8] Raguel thanks Heaven for their food and welcomes again his guests. [2/9] He celebrates the happy pair, [2/10] echoed by the people, [2/11] who tell of the couple's future happiness, when love is crowned by virtue, a sentiment that ends the second part.
[2/12] Part 3 opens with a Sinfonia. [2/13] Meanwhile Tobit suffers persecution among the infidel Ninevites. [2/14] He prays that his enemies may turn to God. [2/15] He is supported by his people. [2/16] A Sinfonia is heard. [2/17] Tobit and Anna are joined by Tobias, accompanied home by Azarias (Raphael). In the surviving word-book Raphael goes on to describe the approach of Sarah, her father and her flocks and herds. [2/18] Anna, in an accompanied recitative, praises God for the safe return of her son. [2/19] In an air she expresses her happiness and renewed faith in the Almighty. [2/20] The people remark on the opportune divine intervention. [2/21] Tobit's sight is restored. He greets Raguel. [2/22] Raguel responds. [2/23] In a terzetto Anna and Tobias express their happiness, while Sarah has misgivings. [2/24] She seeks the care of the angels, [2/25] and praises the Lord, [2/26] following her prayer with an Alleluia. [2/27] The people call for blessings on the couple. [2/28] Raphael wants them to make their escape with Raguel to Ecbatana. [2/29] In an accompanied recitative he tells of the destruction of Nineveh, a fate further described only in the surviving word-book. [2/30] Raphael caps this with a declaration of the divine view of tyrants, after which he leaves. [2/31] A Symphony is heard. [2/32] Tobit realises the identity of his son's companion, not Azarias, as they had thought, but an angel, Raphael. [2/33] The people join in praise of the Lord.
Sources / Quellen
Part 1: The Ninevites
Overture to Tamerlano
[1/2] Recitative: Happy Assyria (A Ninevite)
[1/3] Chorus: Hear us, O Baal (Ninevites)
Athalia: Hear us, O Baal
[1/4] Recitative: How Soon Eclips'd is human joy (Tobit)
[1/5] Solo & Chorus: O Lord, whom we adore (Tobit) - Hear from thy mercies seat (Israelites)
Athalia: O Lord, whom we adore
[1/6] Recitative: The Lord hath heard my pray'r (Tobias)
Occasional Oratorio: The Lord hath heard (JCM)
[1/7] Air: Will God, whose mercies ever flow (Tobias)
Athalia: Will God, whose mercies ever flow (JCM)
[1/8] Recitative: But Say, my Rightous Lord (Anna & Tobit)
[1/9] Duet: To Steal a Grave ev'n for a Friend (Anna & Tobit)
L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato: As steals the morn upon the night
[1/10] Recitative: Your Pardon, from a Deed So just humane (Tobias)
[1/11] Air: Boistrous Winds and Billows rolling (Tobias)
Faramondo: Combattuta da due venti
[1/12] Chorus: Tyrants may a while presume (Israelites)
Esther: Tyrants may a while presume
Poro: Sinfonia (JCM)
[1/14] Accompagnato: Ah, Wretched Sarah! Whither shall I go? (Sarah)
[1/15] Air: Paid be my Adoration (Sarah)
Sosarme: Rendi 'l sereno al ciglio, madre
[1/16] Recitative: Be comforted, my Daughter, God is just (Raguel)
[1/17] Air: The Lord Sends his Thunders (Raguel)
Athalia: Ah, canst thou but prove me
[1/18] Chorus: All Pow'r in Heav'n above or Earth beneath (Israelites)
Theodora: All pow'r in heaven above
Deidamia: Sinfonia (JCM)
[1/20] Accompagnato: Alas! To what Variety of Ills (Tobit)
[1/21] Air: In great Jehovah, Almighty Father (Tobit)
Rodalinda: Dove sei? Amato bene
[1/22] Recitative: Happy in thee, my Son (Tobit)
[1/23] Air: Descend, kind Pity, heavnly guest (Azarias)
Theodora: Descend kind pity (JCM)
[1/24] Chorus: Impartial heav'n, whose Hand shall never cease (Israelites)
Susanna: Impartial heav'n
[1/25] Recitative: If Blindness, Scorn, Contempt and Misery (Ninevite)
[1/26] Chorus: O Baal, Monarch of the Skies! (Ninevites)
Deborah: O Baal, Monarch of the skies
Il Trionfo del Tempo e della Verità: Ritornello. Coro: O Tempo, padre del dolor (JCM)
[1/28] Recitative: Pain'd as I am with one dark constant night (Tobit & Anna)
[1/29] Air: Thy pleasing Face, no more shall I, my Son, behold (Anna)
Ariodante: Il mio crudel martiro
[1/30] Recitative: O thou bright sun! (Anna)
Theodora: O thou bright sun!
[1/31] Air : With darkness Deep, as is my woe (Anna)
Theodora: With darkness deep
Poro: Sinfonia (JCM)
[1/33] Recitative: What caution is too great for Mortal Man (Tobias & Azarias)
[2/1] Air: Thou, God most high, and Thou alone (Azarias)
Belshazzar: Thou, God most high, and Thou alone
[2/2] Duet: Cease thy Anguish, Smile once more (Azarias & Tobias)
Athalia: Cease thy anguish, smile once more
[2/3] Chorus: The Clouded Scene begins to clear (Israelites)
Athalia: The clouded scene begins to clear
Alceste: Larghetto (JCM)
[2/5] Recitative: How happy, Daughter (Raguel & Sarah)
[2/6] Air: To nobler Joys aspiring (Sarah)
Alessandro: L'amor, che per te sento
[2/7] Recitative: O Azarias, I must freely own (Tobias & Azarias)
[2/8] Recitative: The gratefull Tribute of our thanks (Raguel)
[2/9] Air: Let Songs of varied measure (Raguel)
Ariodante: Voli colla sua tromba
[2/10] Chorus: Now Love, that everlasting Joy (Israelites)
Semele: Now love, that everlasting Boy
[2/11] Chorus: Happy, happy shall they be (Israelites)
Semele: Happy, happy shall we be
[2/13] Accompagnato: Still am I persecuted (Tobit)
[2/14] Air: Cease your Pride, deluded mortals (Tobit)
Poro: Serbati a grande imprese
[2/15] Chorus: Tremble, Guilt, for Thou Shalt find (Israelites)
Susanna: Tremble, guilt, for thou shalt find
Semele: Sinfonia (JCM)
[2/17] Recitative: Hail, Tobit! Favour'd thou of Heaven (Raphael & Tobit)
[2/18] Accompagnato: Henceforth through all the changing Scenes of Life (Anna)
[2/19] Air: My Son, how happy in this thy Sweet Return (Anna)
Rodalinda: Mio caro bene
[2/20] Chorus: Let none Despair (Israelites)
Hercules: Let none despair
[2/21] Accompagnato: Blest be the God of Heav'n (Tobit & Raguel)
[2/22] Air: May true Joy and every blessing (Raguel)
Giulio Cesare in Egitto: Dal fulgor di questa spada
[2/23] Terzetto: More chearfull appearing (Anna, Tobias & Sarah)
Orlando: Consolati, o bella
[2/24] Air: Watchful angels, let me share (Sarah)
Esther: Watchful angels
[2/25] Recitative: O King of Kings (Sarah)
Esther: O King of Kings (JCM)
[2/26] Air: Allelujah (Sarah)
[2/27] Chorus: Swift our numbers, Swiftly roll (Israelites)
Joseph and His Brethren: Swift our numbers
[2/28] Recitative: Tis well, but take this caution (Raphael)
[2/29] Accompagnato: O Nineveh! Thy Glory is laid waste (Raphael)
[2/30] Air: In Jehovah's awful sight (Raphael)
Deborah: In Jehovah's awful sight
Jephtha: Symphony (JCM)
[2/32] Recitative: Saw ye the radiant Streams of Light (Tobit)
[2/33] Chorus: Ye servants of th'eternal King (Anna, Sarah & Israelites)
Alexander Balus: Ye servants of th'eternal King
Note: Many of the unaccompanied and accompanied recitatives are by the younger John Christopher Smith. Additions made to the score by Joachim Carlos Martini are indicated by the initials JCM.
Sung texts can be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/570113.htm
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