Ei ist gewisslich an der Zeit.
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden.
J. S. Bach, 1729.
In the works of these great Masters the German School of Sacred Music reached its culminating point. Their successors made no attempt to compete with them on their own ground; and, before very long, the style they had so successfully cultivated yielded to the demands of fashion, and its traditions passed quite out of memory, to be revived, in our own day, with results concerning which it is not yet time to speak. But, grand as their Ideal was, it was not the grandest the Oratorio was destined to embody; nor was Germany the country fated to witness the most splendid development of that noblest of all Art-forms. Our search for it, in its highest perfection, leads us to England, where the Seventh Period of its history presents it to us under the influence of some very important modifications both of general construction and detail.
We have already seen Handel writing a true German Oratorio at Hamburg in 1704, and one after the prevailing Italian manner at Rome in 1708; but neither of these works represents the style for which he afterwards became so justly famous; nor does even the second Passion Oratorio of 1716 clearly foreshadow it, as a whole, though it may be said to do so in certain places. Not but that there are beauties enough, even in the first Passion Oratorio and the 'Resurrezione,' to pronounce him, young as he was when he wrote them, the greatest Composer of the age. We may search in vain, among contemporary productions, for evidence of such power as that displayed in 'O voi dell' Erebo potenze orribili,' or the Recitative which precedes and introduces it. But this only entitles him to rank as Primus inter pares. He had not yet perfected the stupendous conception which gave him a place, not among, but above, all other writers of the 18th century, analogous to that which Palestrina held above all those of the 16th—a position to which was attached the title, not of Primus, but of Solus. Let us endeavour to analyse this great conception; to measure the extent of the resources which rendered its embodiment possible; and to trace, as carefully as we may, the progress of its development.
When Handel wrote his first English Oratorio, 'Esther,' he was no longer an aspiring débutant, but the first Musician in Europe. Since the production of 'La Resurrezione,' he had written, for the King's Theatre in the Haymarket, five Italian Operas, two of which, 'Rinaldo' and ' Radamisto,' rank among the best he has bequeathed to us. In these, he exhibited a power of dramatic expression immeasurably exceeding anything that had ever been previously attempted. Every shade of human passion, from the tenderest pathos, through the varying phases of sorrow, anxiety, fear, terror, scorn, anger, infuriated madness, or curdling horror, may be found depicted in them, with sufficient fidelity to prove that he had the entire series absolutely at his command. This was much, to begin with; but there was more behind. Too little stress is laid, by musical critics, upon the distinction between dramatic and epic power—yet, the two