Oratorio Composition | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Oratorio Composition

Oratorio composition. Large-scale choral-orchestral works, usually on religious, often biblical, texts, but not from the liturgy.
Large-scale choral-orchestral works, usually on religious, often biblical, texts, but not from the liturgy. In character their librettos may be dramatic-narrative (as in such prototypes from the classics as Bach's Passions, Haydn's The Creation, and Mendelssohn's Elijah) or dramatic-contemplative (as in Handel's Messiah). The typical oratorio is laid out in a pattern of choruses and chorales interspersed with recitatives, arias, duets, and trios sung by the solo voices, the whole prefaced by an orchestral overture. Occasionally there are orchestral interludes. Oratorios have been staged, but staging is uncommon; they are done almost invariably in concert style, without action, scenery, or costumes. The particular conditions under which oratorios have been composed and performed in Canada - for and in monasteries, convents, churches, and concert halls - require the admission of organ, piano, and even, latterly, electronic sounds as accompaniment to the voices, as well as the full orchestra of tradition.

The difference between a large cantata and a small oratorio is hard to determine, but normally a cantata uses smaller, more various forces, attempts to fill a smaller dramatic canvas, and admits a much wider latitude in form.

It has been asserted that Alexis Contant's Caïn (1905, and premiered that year) was the first Canadian oratorio. Though it probably was the largest and most imposing work of its kind to have been produced at that time, it in fact was preceded by Frantz Jehin-Prume's Oratorio dédié à Léon XIII (1886; no record of performance), Eva Rose York's David and Jonathan (performed twice in 1887 in Belleville, Ont), and Hugh Clarke's Jerusalem (Presser 1890; composed in Philadelphia). Other early oratorios include Napoléon Crépault's La Communion des saints (performed in Quebec City ca 1880) and Roberta Geddes-Harvey's Salvator. Invoke Her Name with Praise, a 45-minute oratorio by Cyril C. O'Brien, had its premiere in Halifax, NS, in 1940.

After 1950 some Canadians have produced hybrid works which combine elements of oratorio with elements of other genres, eg, Ridout in his 'dramatic symphony' Esther (1952, premiered that year at the RCMT under Ettore Mazzoleni), Paul McIntyre in his 'melodrama-cantata' Judith (1958, premiered in 1959 at the Vancouver International Festival, with Lois Marshall in the solo role), Leon Zuckert in his 'choreographic oratorio' In the Gleam of Northern Lights (1974, commissioned by the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble), and Anhalt in his 'musical tableau in seven sections on the life of Marie de l'Incarnation,' La Tourangelle (1975, premiered that year in Toronto by the sopranos Mary Morrison and Roxolana Roslak, the mezzo-soprano Phyllis Mailing, the tenor Albert Greer, the baritone Gary Relyea, and the CBC Festival Orchestra and Choir under Marius Constant).

Among the numerous cantatas, near-oratorios, quasi-oratorios, and oratorio hybrids, the list of clear examples of the genre seems short. The ensuing one, alphabetical by composer, attempts to be representative but cannot claim to be complete.

Bissell, Keith The Passion According to St Luke (St Luke's gospel, Wilde, Donne, Bridges, Heber, and the Sussex Mummers' Carol). 1970 (Toronto 1971 under the direction of the composer). Waterloo 1973

Boucher, Lydia L'Oeuvre d'Esther Blondin. 1949

Chotem, Neil The Song of Solomon, radio oratorio. 1951. RCI 85 (CBC Montreal orchestra and chorus conducted by Chotem)

Clarke, F.R.C. Bel and the Dragon (apocryphal book of the same name). 1954. A doctoral exercise for the University of Toronto

Clarke, Hugh Jerusalem (the Scriptures). Presser 1890

Contant, Alexis Caïn (Brother Symphorien-Louis). 1904-5 (Montreal 1905)

- Les Deux Âmes (Henri Roullaud). 1906?-09 (Montreal 1913)

Couture, Guillaume Jean le Précurseur (Albert Lozeau, based on prose text by Antonio LeBel). 1907-09 (Montreal 1923)

Crépault, Napoléon La Communion des saints. ca 1880 (Quebec City ?)

Geddes-Harvey, Roberta Salvator (scripture, with verses by Neale, Havergal, Gerhardt, Milton, Klugh, Heber, and Montgomery). ca 1906 (Guelph 1907?). Published by C.W. Thompson, Boston 1907. Later performed again in Guelph (in 1912) and in Toronto and Kingston

Glick, Srul Irving Visions Through Darkness, An Oratorio of Our Time (Glick). 1988 (Elora Festival 1988)

Higgin, Clifford Calvary. ? (London, under Sir Henry Wood). Breitkopf & Härtel

Hooper, Lou Ruth (Ephesians, the Book of Ruth, Psalms 65 and 147). 1920. Performed in 1977 under conductor Alan Reesor

Horner, Ralph David's First Victory

- St Peter

Jehin-Prume, Frantz Oratorio dédié à Léon XIII. 1886

Kenins, Talivaldis Daniel. 1965. Private publication

Kunz, Alfred The Big Land. 1967

- The Creation (Laurence Cummings). 1972

Lamoureux, Alfred La Tragédie d'Esther

- La Samaritaine

Lauber, Anne Jesus Christus (Benoît Lacroix, from the Latin Vulgate). 1984 (Montreal 1986, by the Orchestre métropolitain and Donovan Chorale, conducted by Mario Bernardi)

Lemieux, J.-L. Les Prémices or Les Saints Martyrs canadiens, libretto by Arthur Charlebois, a teacher of Lemieux (Brother Barnabé) and himself an oratorio composer. 1947

Milette, Juliette Leur Maison. 1944 (Montreal 1944). Written for the centennial of the founding of the Canadian religious order of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary

O'Brien, Cyril C. Invoke Her Name with Praise. 1940

Pedersen, Paul Passion Oratorio. 1990 rev of Cantata and Narrative for Good Friday (1961, rev 1970)

Poynter, A. The Great Commission (Poynter, incorporating quotations from scripture). 1963

Reeves, John Salvator Mundi, liturgical drama (Biblical and liturgical sources). 1983 (Toronto 1983)

Talbot, Robert Évangéline

Telfer, Nancy The Journey. 1982 (Thunder Bay, Ont 1982). Premiered for Women's Inter-Church Council by mezzo-soprano Catherine Robbin, the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Dwight Bennett; also performed for World Council of Churches, Vancouver, 1983. Thompson 1982

Wilson, Charles The Angels of the Earth (Wilson MacDonald). 1966 (Guelph, Ont 1967). Premiered by soprano Mary Morrison and baritone James Bechtel, with the Bach-Elgar Choir of Hamilton, under the composer's direction

York, Eva Rose David and Jonathan; 1887