Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Oratorio, a sacred musical composition, usually dramatic in character, and comprising recitatives, arias, choruses, duets, etc., with full orchestral accompaniment. It is performed without acting or scenic accessories. The name was derived from the oratorio or oratory (place of prayer) of the Chiesa Nuova of St. Philip Neri (q.v.) at Rome, where in the last quarter of the 16th century musical performances took place of which the oratorio was a later development. It was originally designed to convey instruction in the same manner as the mediaeval miracle play. It owed its existence to the revolution in musical taste which produced the opera (q.v.), and at first differed from the latter only in having a sacred, instead .of a secular, subject for its theme. The first oratorio, Cavaliero's Rapprescntazione dell' Anima e del Corpo, performed at Rome in 1600, consisted entirely of recitative, with the usual dramatic accompaniments, among which, dancing was included. In spite of the works of Carissiroi, Scarlatti, and Stradella, the oratorio was little cultivated by the Italians, to whose bent the opera was far more congenial. In Germany, on the other hand, the mediaeval passiori-play, representing the sufferings and death of Christ, developed into the passion oratorio or passion music, of which the St. Matthew (1729) of J. S. Bach is the most celebrated example. This composition is partly dramatic, but elsewhere epic, in form, and includes a double chorus, certain airs entitled soliloquies, and various chorales, in which the congregation joined. The, oratorio was introduced into England by Handel, who finally abandoned the dramatic for the epic form, his two greatest compositions, Israel in Egypt (1739) and the Messiah (1741), being entirely in the latter style. The work of Handel was carried on by Haydn, who gave his Creation to the. world in 1798. Among the most noteworthy oratorios produced in the first half of the 19th .century were Beethoven's Mount of Olives (1803), Spohr's Calvary (1835) and Fall of Babylon (1842), and the Elijah (1846) of Mendelssohn. A taste for the oratorio has been kept alive by the, constantly recurring musical festivals. Parry's Job, Stanford's Eden, and Sullivan's Golden Legend are examples of works of the highest merit by English composers.