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ClassicsOnline Home » HANDEL: Deborah
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
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 sons early musical ambitions and after his fathers 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.
Handels 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. By 1733, however, with the establishment of a rival opera company under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, there were obvious commercial difficulties.
While Handels 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. Handels 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 oratorio Deborah came at a difficult point in Handels career. 1733 had seen the creation of a rival opera company, the Opera of the Nobility, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, eager to spite his sister and his father. The distinguished and troublesome castrato Senesino, a leading member of Handels company, deserted the Kings Theatre, taking with him most of the leading singers in what seemed to the contemporary press a desire to humiliate Handel. The latter sought an answer to his problems in the new oratorio Deborah, mounted with a hundred performers, including 25 singers, at the Kings Theatre on 17th March 1733. Public hostility arose, however, in the attempt to double the ticket price to one guinea for the pit or a box, an initiative resisted by the subscribers. Whatever Handels commercial losses on the season and on the new oratorio, which relied heavily on earlier works, he largely recouped them with Athalia in Oxford, which is said to have brought him £2000.
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 composers continued popularity and dominance, particularly with the wider development of choral singing in the nineteenth century. Handels 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 treat narratives derived from the Old Testament, well characterized by the composers 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. He was commemorated there three years later with 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.
The libretto of Deborah was devised by Samuel Humphreys, who was employed at the Kings Theatre, where he supplied English translations for some of the Italian operas staged there. He helped in the revised version of the text of Esther for performance in 1732 and provided libretti for both Deborah and Athalia. Humphreys coupled poetic deficiencies with a poor dramatic sense. For Deborah he expanded the text drawn from the fourth chapter of the Book of Judges, developing the character of Abinoam, Baraks father, and the parts for the Canaanite Herald and the people of Israel. In rhyming couplets he gave the characters of the biblical narrative greater human motivation and provided exchanges between Deborah, Barak and their enemy Sisera, suggesting contemporary theological differences, at the climax of the action at the beginning of the Second Part. Jael is presented as an early associate of Deborah rather than as the wife of Heber the Kenite. Her aria starting Tyrant, now no more we dread thee and Baraks Low at her feet he bowd, he fell are taken from the fifth chapter of the Book of Judges, the Song of Deborah, in which the latter celebrates the death of Sisera. The whole text was written in some haste to meet Handels immediate needs.
Deborah has been described as a pasticcio, largely relying, as it does, on elements of earlier compositions. These include, for example, the chorus Immortal Lord of earth and skies, which is taken from the Chandos Anthem O praise the Lord with one consent, written in 1717-18 and itself drawn from the Sonata of the solo cantata Tu fedel? tu constante?, written in Florence in 1706, with the necessary changes in text, key and instrumentation. Other sources include Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno of 1707, the Vespers psalm setting of Dixit Dominus in the same year, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo of 1708, the Brockes Passion of 1716, three of the Chandos Anthems and the 1713 Serenata for the Birthday of Queen Anne. Handel started work on the oratorio in January 1733 and completed the score on 21st February, leaving three weeks for the rehearsal of the work before its first performance. It seems to have received six performances in London in 1733, and formed part of the concerts give by Handel in July in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. It was revived in succeeding years and was last given in the composers lifetime in 1756 at Covent Garden.
There is no definitive edition of the score of Deborah and the present performance relies first on the 1869 edition of the work by Friedrich Chrysander, collated with the editions of Bernd Baselt and Robert King, surviving manuscripts, contemporary copies and libretti from 1733 (London) and 1749 (Dublin). For the original Overture only the continuo part survives, identified by Anthony Hicks with the Grave and Allegro of the Overture to the Occasional Oratorio, HWV 62, and with the Menuett from the Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351. Following Robert King, the complete Overture to the Occasional Oratorio of 1746 has been used. Thanks are also due to Robert King for his help in dealing with the borrowed anthem choruses omitted by Chrysander and for putting at our disposal the orchestral material of his edition.
To the meticulous work of Bernd Baselt on the history of the oratorio we owe the two arias of Part I, Scene 4, Abinoams Hateful man and the Heralds My vengeance awakes me, the first a parody of Piangi pur, ma non sperare from the opera Tolomeo, found in the score of the last performance in 1756, and the aria of the Herald is taken from Athalia, without change. Special thanks are due to Frau Annette Landgraf and Dr Michael Pacholke for the aria Cease, O Judah, cease thy mourning from the new edition of the oratorio Israel in Egypt. For the Grand Military Symphony that introduces Part III we have had recourse to the Martial Symphony in Belshazzar, with the Symphony Allegro Postillons from the same oratorio. The Heralds Hark! Hark! His thunders round me roll is taken from Athalia and the Symphony before the final chorus is La Rejouissance from the Music for the Royal Fireworks.
In the use of continuo care has been taken to match the chosen instrumentation with the character of the singer and the dramatic circumstances. For Abinoam two harpsichords, cello and double bass are used, for Sisera one harpsichord, theorbo and bassoon, for the Herald one harpsichord, for the Chief Priest of the Israelites a solo theorbo and for the Priest of Baal organ (8 and 4) and double bass.
Joachim Carlos Martini
Part the First
Scene 1 (1-13)
The children of Israel gather before Deborah, a Judge, on Mount Ephraim, making offerings to the Lord and crying out for Him to send them a leader in their struggle against their oppressors. Barak, the son of Abinoam, is summoned by her, chosen by the Lord to lead the army against the Canaanite enemy. He is persuaded by the people to agree to this. Deborah prays and in a vision sees the death of Sisera, leader of the Canaanite armies, at the hands of a woman. Barak feels no envy and praises Deborah.
Scene 2 (14-17)
Jael comes to Deborah, seeing death and war everywhere and seeking a retreat from such violence. Deborah, divinely inspired, sees Jael surrounded by choirs of angels, defended by the Lord and enjoying the highest fame.
Scene 3 (18-22)
Abinoam, the father of Barak, hears the rejoicing of the people at the calling of his son to lead the Israelite armies. He hurries to embrace his son, assure him of his paternal love, whether he live victorious or die a hero. Barak is ready to follow the Lords call and is urged to victory by the people.
Scene 4 (23-25)
A Herald hurries in, sent by Sisera to offer a parley. His arrogance arouses only scorn in Barak and he is rebuked by Abinoam. He vows revenge.
Scene 5 (26-29)
Deborah, inspired, sees an end to the sorrows of Judah and the people echo her prophecy of victory.
Part the Second
Scene 1 (1)
On Mount Tabor Deborah, Jael, Barak, Abinoam and the Israelite army await the advance of Sisera.
Scene 2 (2-15)
Sisera approaches, attended by Priests of Baal and worshippers, demanding submission. Deborah rejects his demands with contempt and a theological dispute begins, Sisera drawing attention to the apparent weakness of the Israelite God, supported in his argument by the Priests of Baal. The Chief Priest of the Israelites answers him, joined by his people, and Deborah tells him to be gone, threatening an end to his boasting, as he withdraws.
Scene 3 (16-26)
Barak thirsts for battle, encouraged by Abinoam, and Jael too foresees the joy of victory. Deborah knows the glory that will come to Jael, who happily accepts her lot. Deborah and Barak prepare for battle, and the Israelite army expresses confidence in the Lord.
Part the Third
A grand military symphony. (1)
Scene 1 (2-4)
The Israelites celebrate their victory, joined by Jael.
Scene 2 (5-6)
Abinoam congratulates his son on the victory.
Scene 3 (7-19)
Jael announces the death of Sisera, while the Canaanite Herald, in defeat, seeks his own grave, followed in his lament by the Priests of Baal. Deborah announces victory and Barak describes what he has seen in Jaels tent. She repeats her account of how she killed Sisera, a guest in her tent, driving a nail through his temples as he slept. Deborah proclaims Jaels lasting fame and Barak calls for blessings on her head. Deborah praises the Lord and the people follow her in final rejoicing.
The soprano Elisabeth Scholl had her early musical experience as a member of the Kiedrich Choir, an ensemble representing a 650-year-old tradition and appeared as a child as the First Boy in Mozarts Die Zauberflöte at the Hess State Theatre in Wiesbaden. Her musical training, with a higher degree in musicology, brought a period of study at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis with René Jacobs and Richard Levitt and experience at the Basle Opera Studio. Her career has led to collaboration with leading specialists in early music, including René Jacobs, Philip Pickett, Philippe Herreweghe, Ton Koopman and Howard Arman, a number of recordings and second prize in the Flanders Festival Musica Antiqua Competition in 1993.
Born in Geneva, the soprano Natacha Ducret made her first stage appearances as a child and subsequently devoted her attention to oratorio, sacred music and especially to early music. Since 1992 she has served as a soloist with the Ensemble de Lausanne under Michel Corboz, making her first recording with them. After her graduation from Lausanne Conservatoire she studied on a scholarship with Laura Sarti at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, developing a wider repertoire and appearing in concerts with the pianists Jovanka Marville and Dominique Lipp-Lehner. Continuing her studies in Lausanne in 1994 with Pierre-André Blaser, she received the High Diploma in Singing and, with a Premier Prix de Virtuosité in 1998, has a career that has brought regular performances in Switzerland and abroad.
The American countertenor Lawrence Zazzo was born in Philadelphia and studied English literature at Yale and music at Kings College, Cambridge, where he sang with the choirs of Kings College and Clare College. There followed two years with the London Royal Schools Opera Programme. In 1995 he won the silver medal in the International Grimsby Singing Competition, where he also was awarded the Pro Cantione Antiqua Prize for Early Music and the English Song Prize. With a wide repertoire ranging from Vivaldi and Handel to Mendelssohn and to Bernstein, he has appeared at Handel festivals in London and Karlsruhe, sung the rôle of Oberon in Brittens A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Royal Academy of Music in London and performed also in Israel and in the United States.
Born in Wadowice in Poland, Ewa Wolak studied singing and viola at the Conservatory in Cracow, completing her vocal training at the Music Academy there with distinction. She continued her studies at the Musikhochschule in Karlruhe, the International Bach-Akademie in Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe International Händel-Akademie. Among other awards she won the Oratorio Prize at sHertogenbosch and a silver medal at the Grand Prix Maria Callas. Her international career has brought appearances with the Stuttgart Bach-Kollegium, the Cracow Philharmonic, the Polish Radio Orchestra and the Czech National Philharmonic among others, with festival and concert appearances throughout Europe.
The tenor Knut Schoch studied at the Hamburg Musikhochschule and has given special attention to the principles of performance practice in early music. He enjoys an international career in Lieder, oratorio and opera, not only in Europe but also in Japan, with broadcasts, television appearances and recordings. He has undertaken the Mozartian rôles of Tamino and of Belmonte and has appeared at festivals in Göttingen, Paris and Vienna, collaborating with ensembles that include the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Musica Fiata, Cologne, Florilegium Musicum, The Hague, and Drottningholm Baroque, and with the directors Thomas Hengelbrock and Ton Koopman. In 1999 he was a prize-winner in the international Concours Musica Antiqua in Bruges.
A member of a family of singers, the Dutch bass-baritone Jelle S.Draijer studied history and English at Amsterdam University and embarked on vocal studies at the Conservatory in the same city. He joined the Netherlands Chamber Choir in 1977, when he began his career as a soloist. He has since appeared with many leading directors and early music ensembles. His recordings range from Monteverdi, Mazzocchi and Mozart to Sofia Gubaidulina, in collaboration with musicians including Gustav Leonhardt, René Jacobs, Frans Brüggen and Reinbert de Leeuw.
The Junge Kantorei
The Junge Kantorei was established in 1965 by Joachim Carlos Martini for the Evangelical Church of Hess and Nassau. The choir has since then won a reputation for its many performances of music from the Baroque to the contemporary and has enjoyed a happy collaboration with the Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra. The choir schedule has brought regular participation in festivals of major regional importance, notably the Whit celebrations at Kloster Eberbach im Rheingau and in the church of St Peter in Heidelberg. For its work the choir has depended on the support of friends, patrons and sponsors and the present recording is the result of the support of the Lafarge Braas GmbH in Oberursel, to which the Junge Kantorei wishes to express its gratitude.
The Barockorchester Frankfurt was established in 1986 by Joachim Martini and fellow musicians, in conjunction, in particular, with the work of the Junge Kantorei, and has joined in performances throughout Germany and abroad, notably in Paris, London, Oxford and Amsterdam. At the heart of the repertoire are the oratorios of Handel, although the orchestra also extends its activities to the classical and early romantic periods, in its special attention to the principles of early music performance practice.
Joachim Carlos Martini was born in Valdivia, in Chile, to German parents, and in 1968, with the youth pastor of the Evangelical Church in Hess and Nassau, Fritz Eitel, set up the Junge Kantorei, to the direction of which he has for some years chiefly devoted himself. At the same time he conducts the Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra, established together with friends, an ensemble that specialises in historical performance practice, bringing together for this purpose musicians from all over Europe. Both organizations have concentrated attention on the oratorios of Handel, with comprehensive performances of this repertoire. Joachim Martini has also, through the establishment of a Frankfurt Archive on musical life under National Socialism, conducted research into Jewish musicians in the Third Reich with publications that include Music in Auschwitz and Music as a Form of Spiritual Resistance, Jewish Musicians from 1933 to 1945.
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