TRINITY COLLEGE DUBLIN
9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music
The Choruses in Italianate Oratorios: a Problem in Eighteenth-Century
Mary Ann Parker
In his monumental study of the oratorio, Howard Smither cautioned that
"changes in musical style and structure throughout the eighteenth century
seem to be continuous, complex, and multidirectional, not necessarily away
from a certain style of the past nor toward a certain style of the future."
In Italianate oratorios, the arias fall invariably into the da capo or
related forms. The choruses, however, are not so easily classified. The
librettos of Metastasio, which provided either the poetic texts or the
models for virtually all of the repertoire, generally call for only two
or three "coro" movements. The study of these movements in their musical
settings reveals a variety of styles, from the soloistic type in the madrigale
ultimo tradition to more extensive numbers in true choral style. Here,
Smither's statement seems particularly apt; if anything, composers in their
choral movements sometimes seem to be moving backward to a more Baroque
concept of dense, contrapuntal textures.
Examination of some three dozen oratorios from the period 1730-1760,
some unpublished, by such composers as Hasse, Leo, Jommelli, Bonno, Marcello,
and Caldara shows that the models for choral movements come not only from
opera but more often from motets and liturgical music. The changing concept
of fugue as a structural and topical element is considered.
In spite of Smither's well-founded caution, there is a general trend toward
substantial movements in true choral style, which can be related to the
overall change in performance setting from oratories and palaces to churches
and court chapels.
Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo