Baroque Music: The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

The Baroque period witnessed many new developments in the musical arena. During this era, music was impacted by religion. The Catholic Church—over a millennium old—was challenged by the Protestant Reformation. Protestantism stirred up Europe, and the Catholic Church, led by Pope Paul III, reciprocated by forming the Counter-Reformation. Throughout the years 1545-1563, the Council of Trent decided how the Catholic Church would respond the Protestant Reformation. This Council resulted in the Catholic Church encouraging the incorporation of aesthetics that made its religion more appealing (Mulcahy 132-133). Although this impacted visual arts and architecture a lot, it also led to new developments in music. One of the musical genres that was born was the oratorio. Oratorios took accounts from the Bible and put them into musical form. Unlike theatrical performances, oratorios did not use sets or costumes. Instead, they aimed to stimulate the imagination of the audience (Alwes 155).

Composer George Frideric Handel lived in the end of the Baroque period, but his works are some of the most famous from of that period. One of his compositions was Solomon, an oratorio that told about King Solomon from the books of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles in the Bible. Handel composed the oratorio in 1748, and it was published and performed in London the following year (Vickers). It was also likely composed in London since that was Handel’s home (Humphreys 100).

One of the part of the oratorio Solomon is called “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.”

(You might enjoy this excellent pipe organ performance of the piece also.)

1 Kings 3 tells the story of King Solomon going to offer sacrifices to God. During the night, God came to him and said, “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon asked for wisdom to govern the people. In the next chapter, the Bible says that “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure….he was wiser than all other men….And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (English Standard Version, 1 Kings 4:29-34). In chapter 10, the Queen of Sheba came to test Solomon’s wisdom, bringing with her a caravan carrying rich gifts. This part of the oratorio is about her arrival. 

 This piece demonstrates several features that sprouted up in Baroque music. For example, it draws a variety of instruments together in a beautifully complex arrangement. It also has excellent dynamics. Different instruments are accentuated throughout the performance. It makes heavy use of stringed instruments. With these characteristics, it is an excellent sample of Baroque music. 

The composition relates well to the subject of this part of the oratorio—the Queen of Sheba’s arrival. Woven throughout the piece, the trilling notes seem to symbolize the delicate, royal beauty of the queen’s arrival. The instrumental solos (by oboes, in this case) could be representative of the queen herself, and sections that incorporate the whole orchestra could symbolize the people with her. It is also possible that this piece represents the meeting and conversation between the Queen of Sheba and Solomon, with the instrumental solos and duets representing their conversation.

This piece speaks to Handel’s skill as a composer. He composed the music for the whole oratorio between May 5th and June 13th in 1748 (Vickers). That was only about six weeks! Handel truly was an outstanding name in Baroque period.


Works Cited

Alwes, Chester L. A History of Western Choral Music. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. Print. Google Books. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

The English Standard Version Bible. Crossway Bibles, 2001. Bible Gateway. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

Humphreys, Rob. The Rough Guide to London. London: Rough Guides, 2003. Google Books. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

Mulcahy, Kevin V. “The Cultural Policy Of The Counter-Reformation: The Case Of St. Peter’s.” International Journal Of Cultural Policy 17.2 (2011): 131-152. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

Vickers, David, and Matthew Gardner. “HWV 43-100.”, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.


4 thoughts on “Baroque Music: The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

  1. Great post! I really enjoyed reading (and listening) to your blog. It was great to hear your interpretation of the piece and I can definitely see how the flow of the music could suggest a conversation. Handel was an incredible composer. I also liked how you linked the creation of more forms of religious art and music to the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation. Surprisingly, there are not many articles that have both the history of the reformation and the counter-reformation, but I managed to find one! It is actually really interesting. Here is the link: (Sorry this is not hyper linked… For some reason it won’t let me hyperlink it). Thanks for the awesome post!


  2. It was fun reading your post. I really like listening to Handel’s music and have always loved his oratorio, “Messiah.” Solos interspaced with choruses, instrumentals heavy on strings, dynamics, and beautiful soaring music are some similarities to “Soloman.” I was amazed that Handel wrote “Messiah” in three of four weeks and that it was originally written for Easter. One difference between the two oratorios is that “Messiah” had no named characters.
    I’ve learned that Handel began to write oratorios, because operas became too expensive to produce, the singers were all from Italy, and tastes in music were changing. The English supporters of his music also liked Handel writing verse in their language. I found this article with lots more information on “Messiah.”


  3. Interesting blog. I really liked how you talked about the way the Catholic Church influenced not only the visual arts of the time but also the music. The piece you chose was extremely interesting. I love how you included the background information on the story it is telling. Good job with the blog.


  4. I enjoyed that you chose a musical piece of art to represent the Baroque Era! I do think that musical pieces that were developed during this time such as the oratorios, did make religion more appealing to the public. Music is very inspiring and influential to people. I also like how you explained the different ways this song can be interpreted from it being the queen’s arrival, the queen herself, or the conversation between the queen and Solomon. I listened to the pipe organ performance of The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba and also enjoyed that! It takes so much talent and multitasking to be able to play the organ.


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