Judas Maccabaeus (Handel)

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 or apocryphal book 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

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

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

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

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

The Halifax Choral Society owns a manuscript which purports to be a re-orchestration 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.

To this day, an instrumental rendition of the chorus is played during award ceremonies at Japanese schools while recipients proceed to the stage to receive their awards.


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

Dramatis Personae


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

Part No. Type Title Voices Tempo Time Signature Key Signature
1 1 Overture Largo, Allegro, Largo 4/4, 3/8, 4/4 G minor
1 2 Chorus Mourn, ye afflicted children Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Largo 4/4 C minor
1 3 Recitative Well may your sorrows Israelitish man (Tenor) 4/4
1 4 Duet From this dread scene Israelitish man (Tenor),
Israelitish woman (Alto)
Andante e staccato 3/4 G minor
1 5 Chorus For Sion lamentation make Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Larghetto e un poco piano, Adagio 12/8, 4/4 F minor
1 6 Recitative Not vain is all this storm of grief Simon 4/4
1 7 Air Pious orgies Israelitish woman Largo e sostenuto 4/4 E flat major
1 8 Chorus O Father, whose Almighty power Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Larghetto, Allegro 3/4, 4/4 B flat major
1 9 Recitative
I feel the Deity within Simon 4/4
1 10 Air Arm, arm, ye brave Simon Allegro 4/4 C major
1 11 Chorus We come, in bright array Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 3/4 C major
1 12 Recitative ‘Tis well, my friends Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
1 13 Air Call forth thy powers Judas Maccabaeus Allegro 4/4 D major
1 14 Recitative To Heaven’s Almighty King we kneel Israelitish woman 4/4
1 15 Air O Liberty, thou choicest treasure Israelitish woman Largo 4/4 A major
1 16 Air Come, ever-smiling Liberty Israelitish woman Andante 6/8 A major
1 17 Recitative O Judas, may these noble views inspire Israelitish man 4/4
1 18 Air ‘Tis Liberty Israelitish man Larghetto, Adagio, Larghetto 4/4 E major
1 19 Duet Come, ever-smiling Liberty Israelitish woman,
Israelitish man (mezzo-soprano)
Andante 6/8 A major
1 20 Chorus Lead on, lead on Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 4/4 D major
1 21 Recitative
(end accompanied)
So willed my father Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
1 22 Chorus Disdainful of danger Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 3/8 G major
1 23 Recitative Ambition! if e’er honour was thine aim Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
1 24 Air No unhallow’d desire Judas Maccabaeus Allegro 6/8 B flat major
1 25 Recitative Haste we, my brethren Israelitish man (Tenor) 4/4
1 26 Chorus Hear us, O Lord Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass A tempo giusto 4/4 F major
2 27 Chorus Fallen is the foe Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro moderato 4/4 D minor
2 28 Recitative Victorious hero Israelitish man 4/4
2 29 Air So rapid thy course is Israelitish man Allegro, Adagio (last five bars) 3/8 G major
2 30 Recitative Well may hope our freedom to receive Israelitish man (Soprano) 4/4
2 31 Duet Sion now her head shall raise Israelitish woman,
Israelitish man (Soprano)
Andante 3/4 G major
2 32 Chorus Tune your harps Soprano (1st & 2nd), Alto, Tenor, Bass Andante 3/4 G major
2 33 Recitative O let eternal honours crown his name Israelitish woman 4/4
2 34 Air From mighty kings he took the spoil Israelitish woman Andante, Allegro (fine) 12/8, 4/4 (fine) A major
2 35 Duet Hail, Judea, happy land Israelitish man (Contralto),
Israelitish woman
Allegro 4/4 D major
2 36 Chorus Hail, Judea, happy land Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 4/4 D major
2 37 Recitative Thanks to my brethren Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
2 38 Air How vain is man who boasts in fight Judas Maccabaeus Andante 4/4 F major
2 39 Recitative O Judas! O my brethren Israelitish messenger (Alto) 4/4
2 40 Air Ah! wretched Israel Israelitish woman Largo 3/4 C minor
2 41 Chorus Ah! wretched Israel Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Largo, Adagio (ending) 3/4 C minor
2 42 Recitative Be comforted Simon 4/4
2 43 Air The Lord worketh wonders Simon Allegro 4/4 A minor
2 44 Recitative My arms! against this Gorgias will I go Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
2 45 Air Sound an alarm Judas Maccabaeus Allegro 6/8 D major
2 46 Chorus We hear Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 6/8 D major
2 47 Recitative Enough! to Heaven we leave Simon 4/4
2 48 Air With pious hearts Simon Larghetto 3/4 G minor
2 49 Recitative Ye worshippers of God Israelitish man (Contralto) 4/4
2 50 Air Wise men, flattering, may deceive you Israelitish woman Larghetto 3/4 F major
2 51 Duet O never bow we down Israelitish woman,
Israelitish man (Contralto)
Andante 3/4 C minor
2 52 Chorus We never will bow down Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Andante 3/4 C minor, C major
3 53 Air Father of Heaven Priest Andante larghetto 4/4 F major
3 54 Recitative See, see yon flames Israelitish man (Contralto) 4/4
3 55 Recitative O grant it, Heaven Israelitish woman 4/4
3 56 Air So shall the lute and harp awake Israelitish woman Allegro, Adagio (ending) 4/4 B flat major
3 57 Recitative From Capharsalama Israelitish messenger (Alto),
Israelitish messenger (Bass)
3 58 Chorus of Youths;
Chorus of Virgins;
See the conquering hero comes Soprano (1st & 2nd), Alto;
Soprano (1st & 2nd);
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
2/2 G major
3 59 March Allegro 2/2 G major
3 60 Duet; Chorus Sing unto God Alto, Tenor; Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 4/4 D major
3 61 Recitative Sweet flow the strains Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
3 62 Air With honour let desert be crowned Judas Maccabaeus Andante larghetto 4/4 A minor
3 63 Recitative Peace to my countrymen Eupolemus 4/4
3 64 Chorus To our great God Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 4/4 G minor
3 65 Recitative Again to earth let gratitude descend Israelitish woman 4/4
3 66 Duet O lovely peace Israelitish woman,
Israelitish man (Alto)
Allegro 6/8 G major
3 67 Air Rejoice, O Judah Simon Andante allegro 4/4 D major
3 68 Chorus Hallelujah, Amen Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro, Adagio (ending) 4/4 D major


Year Cast: Judas Maccabaeus,
Israelitish Woman,
Israelitish Man,
A messenger,
and chorus
1963 Jan 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
1971 Alexander 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
1977 Ryland Davies,
Felicity Palmer,
John Shirley-Quirk,
Janet Baker,
Paul Esswood,
Christopher Keyte
Charles Mackerras,
English Chamber Orchestra
and Wandsworth School Choir
Cat: 447692
1993 Guy de Mey,
Lisa Saffer,
David Thomas,
Patricia Spence,
Brian Asawa,
Leroy Kromm
Nicholas McGegan,
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
and U.C. Berkley Chamber Chorus
CD: Harmonia Mundi
Cat: HMX 2907374.75

See also



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Judas Maccabaeus – G F Handel (1685–1759)". choirs.org.uk. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  2. Hicks, Anthony (2001). Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John, eds. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. x (2 ed.). London: Macmillan. p. 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

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