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.
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.” GFHandel.org. GFHandel.org, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.