Judas Maccabaeus (Handel)

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Judas Maccabaeus (HWV 63) is an oratorio in three acts composed in 1746 by George Frideric Handel based on a libretto written by Thomas Morell. The oratorio was devised as a compliment to the victorious Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland upon his return from the Battle of Culloden (16 April 1746).[1] Other catalogues of Handel's music have referred to the work as HG xxii; and HHA 1/24.[2]


Morell's libretto is based on the deuterocanonical 1 Maccabees (2–8), with motives added from the Antiquitates Judaicae by Flavius Josephus.

The events depicted in the oratorio are from the period 170–160 BC when Judea was ruled by the Seleucid Empire which undertook to destroy the Jewish religion. Being ordered to worship Zeus, many Jews obeyed under the threat of persecution; however, some did not. One who defied was the elderly priest Mattathias who killed a fellow Jew who was about to offer a pagan sacrifice. After tearing down a pagan altar, Mattathias retreated to the hills and gathered others who were willing to fight for their faith.[1]

Handel's music depicts the changing moods of the Jewish people as their fortunes vary from dejection to jubilation.[1]

Part 1[edit]

The people mourn the death of their leader Mattathias, but his son Simon tries to restore their faith and calls them to arms (Arm, arm, ye brave). Simon's brother (Judas Maccabaeus) assumes the role of leader and inspires the people with thoughts of liberty and victory through the power of Jehovah.[1]

Part 2[edit]

The people have been victorious, but Judas is concerned that vanity will cause the people to claim victory for themselves. When news arrives that the Seleucid commander Gorgias is preparing to enact revenge, the people's joyous mood gives way to wailing and dejection (Ah! wretched Israel!). Again Judas rallies the people (Sound an alarm) and insists that the pagan altars must be destroyed and that false religions must be resisted.[1][3]

Part 3[edit]

Victory has finally been achieved for the Jewish people (See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes!). News arrives that Rome is willing to form an alliance with Judas against the Seleucid empire. The people rejoice that peace has at last come to their country (O lovely peace).[1]

First performance[edit]

The first performance took place on 1 April 1747 at Covent Garden, and Judas Maccabaeus became one of Handel's most popular oratorios. The General Advertiser (issued on the day prior to the concert) announced the event as:[4]

At the Theatre-Royal in Covent-Garden
To-morrow, will be perform'd a New Oratorio,
With a New Concerto
Pit and Boxes to be put together, and no
Person to be admitted without Tickets, which
will be delivered that Day, at the Office at
Covent-Garden Theatre, at Half a Guinea
each. First Gallery 5s.; Second Gallery 3s.6d.
The Galleries to be Open'd at Half an Hour
after Four o'Clock.
Pit and Boxes at Five.
To begin at Half an Hour after Six o'Clock.

The performers in this original 1747 production included:

The famous chorus See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes! was composed during the summer of 1747 for Handel's next oratorio, Joshua. In the wake of its popularity, probably in 1751, Handel added it to Judas Maccabaeus, and so it forms a legitimate part of both oratorios.

Popular uses[edit]

The Halifax Choral Society owns a manuscript which purports to be a re-orchestation of the oratorio by Mozart.[5]

Ludwig van Beethoven composed twelve variations on See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes! for piano and cello in 1796 (WoO 45). In 1884 the Swiss writer Edmond Louis Budry wrote new French words to the same chorus, creating the Easter hymn " À toi la gloire, O Ressuscité!", which was later translated into English as "Thine Be the Glory". See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes! also gained familiarity as the tune invariably played by brass bands at the opening of new railway lines and stations in Britain during the 19th century, and it was adopted as a movement in Sir Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs, played at the BBC Proms.

Come, ever smiling Liberty, / And with thee bring thy jocund train is sung by Maria, the heroine of Mary Wollstonecraft's novel Maria (1798), at the point where she believes herself to have escaped from her abusive husband. She calls her state "Comparative liberty", suggesting that "the jocund train lagged far behind!" because she takes no pleasure in her need for the separation.[6]

Judas Maccabaeus was translated into German and published in 1866 as Volume 22 of the Händel-Gesellschaft. A Hebrew translation by Aharon Ashman, prepared for the 1932 Maccabiah Games, has become popular in Israel during Hanukkah. Another Hebrew version for Hanukkah (not a translation) was written by the Israeli children's poet and author Levin Kipnis.


The following orchestration was recorded by Chrysander in the Händel-Gesellschaft edition of 1866:

Dramatis Personae[edit]


The following table summarises the movements of the oratorio.[7]

PartNo.TypeTitleVoicesTempoTime SignatureKey Signature
11OvertureLargo, Allegro, Largo4/4, 3/8, 4/4G minor
12ChorusMourn, ye afflicted childrenSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassLargo4/4C minor
13RecitativeWell may your sorrowsIsraelitish man (Tenor)4/4
14DuetFrom this dread sceneIsraelitish man (Tenor),
Israelitish woman (Alto)
Andante e staccato3/4G minor
15ChorusFor Sion lamentation makeSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassLarghetto e un poco piano, Adagio12/8, 4/4F minor
16RecitativeNot vain is all this storm of griefSimon4/4
17AirPious orgiesIsraelitish womanLargo e sostenuto4/4E flat major
18ChorusO Father, whose Almighty powerSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassLarghetto, Allegro3/4, 4/4B flat major
I feel the Deity withinSimon4/4
110AirArm, arm, ye braveSimonAllegro4/4C major
111ChorusWe come, in bright arraySoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassAllegro3/4C major
112Recitative‘Tis well, my friendsJudas Maccabaeus4/4
113AirCall forth thy powersJudas MaccabaeusAllegro4/4D major
114RecitativeTo Heaven’s Almighty King we kneelIsraelitish woman4/4
115AirO Liberty, thou choicest treasureIsraelitish womanLargo4/4A major
116AirCome, ever-smiling LibertyIsraelitish womanAndante6/8A major
117RecitativeO Judas, may these noble views inspireIsraelitish man4/4
118Air‘Tis LibertyIsraelitish manLarghetto, Adagio, Larghetto4/4E major
119DuetCome, ever-smiling LibertyIsraelitish woman,
Israelitish man (mezzo-soprano)
Andante6/8A major
120ChorusLead on, lead onSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassAllegro4/4D major
(end accompanied)
So willed my fatherJudas Maccabaeus4/4
122ChorusDisdainful of dangerAlto, Tenor, BassAllegro3/8G major
123RecitativeAmbition! if e’er honour was thine aimJudas Maccabaeus4/4
124AirNo unhallow’d desireJudas MaccabaeusAllegro6/8B flat major
125RecitativeHaste we, my brethrenIsraelitish man (Tenor)4/4
126ChorusHear us, O LordSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassA tempo giusto4/4F major
227ChorusFallen is the foeSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassAllegro moderato4/4D minor
228RecitativeVictorious heroIsraelitish man4/4
229AirSo rapid thy course isIsraelitish manAllegro, Adagio (last five bars)3/8G major
230RecitativeWell may hope our freedom to receiveIsraelitish man (Soprano)4/4
231DuetSion now her head shall raiseIsraelitish woman,
Israelitish man (Soprano)
Andante3/4G major
232ChorusTune your harpsSoprano (1st & 2nd), Alto, Tenor, BassAndante3/4G major
233RecitativeO let eternal honours crown his nameIsraelitish woman4/4
234AirFrom mighty kings he took the spoilIsraelitish womanAndante, Allegro (fine)12/8, 4/4 (fine)A major
235DuetHail, Judea, happy landIsraelitish man (Contralto),
Israelitish woman
Allegro4/4D major
236ChorusHail, Judea, happy landSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassAllegro4/4D major
237RecitativeThanks to my brethrenJudas Maccabaeus4/4
238AirHow vain is man who boasts in fightJudas MaccabaeusAndante4/4F major
239RecitativeO Judas! O my brethrenIsraelitish messenger (Alto)4/4
240AirAh! wretched IsraelIsraelitish womanLargo3/4C minor
241ChorusAh! wretched IsraelSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassLargo, Adagio (ending)3/4C minor
242RecitativeBe comfortedSimon4/4
243AirThe Lord worketh wondersSimonAllegro4/4A minor
244RecitativeMy arms! against this Gorgias will I goJudas Maccabaeus4/4
245AirSound an alarmJudas MaccabaeusAllegro6/8D major
246ChorusWe hearSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassAllegro6/8D major
247RecitativeEnough! to Heaven we leaveSimon4/4
248AirWith pious heartsSimonLarghetto3/4G minor
249RecitativeYe worshippers of GodIsraelitish man (Contralto)4/4
250AirWise men, flattering, may deceive youIsraelitish womanLarghetto3/4F major
251DuetO never bow we downIsraelitish woman,
Israelitish man (Contralto)
Andante3/4C minor
252ChorusWe never will bow downSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassAndante3/4C minor, C major
353AirFather of HeavenPriestAndante larghetto4/4F major
354RecitativeSee, see yon flamesIsraelitish man (Contralto)4/4
355RecitativeO grant it, HeavenIsraelitish woman4/4
356AirSo shall the lute and harp awakeIsraelitish womanAllegro, Adagio (ending)4/4B flat major
357RecitativeFrom CapharsalamaIsraelitish messenger (Alto),
Israelitish messenger (Bass)
358Chorus of Youths;
Chorus of Virgins;
See the conquering hero comesSoprano (1st & 2nd), Alto;
Soprano (1st & 2nd);
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
2/2G major
359MarchAllegro2/2G major
360Duet; ChorusSing unto GodAlto, Tenor; Soprano, Alto, Tenor, BassAllegro4/4D major
361RecitativeSweet flow the strainsJudas Maccabaeus4/4
362AirWith honour let desert be crownedJudas MaccabaeusAndante larghetto4/4A minor
363RecitativePeace to my countrymenEupolemus4/4
364ChorusTo our great GodSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassAllegro4/4G minor
365RecitativeAgain to earth let gratitude descendIsraelitish woman4/4
366DuetO lovely peaceIsraelitish woman,
Israelitish man (Alto)
Allegro6/8G major
367AirRejoice, O JudahSimonAndante allegro4/4D major
368ChorusHallelujah, AmenSoprano, Alto, Tenor, BassAllegro, Adagio (ending)4/4D major


YearCast: Judas Maccabaeus,
Israelitish Woman,
Israelitish Woman,
A messenger,
and chorus
1963Jan Peerce,
Martina Arroyo,
David Smith,
Mary Davenport,
Mary Davenport,
Lawrence Avery
Thomas Scherman,
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
and Vienna Academy Chorus
CD: VoxBox
Cat: 5125
1971Alexander Young,
Heather Harper,
John Shirley-Quirk,
Helen Watts,
Patricia Clark,
Jean Temperley
Johannes Somary,
English Chamber Orchestra
and Amor Artis Chorale
CD: Vanguard Classics
Cat: OVC 4072
1977Ryland Davies,
Felicity Palmer,
John Shirley-Quirk,
Janet Baker,
Paul Esswood,
Christopher Keyte
Charles Mackerras,
English Chamber Orchestra
and Wandsworth School Choir
Cat: 447692

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f "Judas Maccabaeus – G F Handel (1685–1759)". choirs.org.uk. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  2. ^ Anthony Hicks. "Handel, George Frideric", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell (London: Macmillan, 2001), x, 785.
  3. ^ "Libretto: Judas Maccabaeus". Opera. Stanford University. 20 October 1999. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Channon 2003, Novello's Original Octavo July 1923 edition.
  5. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/1219851.stm
  6. ^ Wollstonecraft 2006, p. 70.
  7. ^ Channon 2003.


External links[edit]