George Frideric Handel: Comfort Ye, My People

Messiah Part I


George Frideric Handel’s Messiah has remained one of the composer’s most beloved works. Incredibly, Handel completed this 260-page oratorio in just 24 days during the summer of 1741. The scriptural text was compiled by Charles Jennens, with the source being the King James Bible. The first performance of Messiah was on 13th April 1742, to celebrate Easter. 

Initially the oratorio garnered a lukewarm reception from audiences, however the work began to gain popularity over some years, with it now being the go-to work to perform during the Easter period. During this new Messiah exploration on Classicalexburns, blogs will be posted regularly to cover all of the pieces involved in making up this much-loved oratorio. 


The Lyrics

Comfort ye

Comfort ye my people

Comfort ye

Comfort ye my people

Saith your God

Saith your God

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem

And cry unto her

That her warfare

Her warfare is accomplished

That her iniquity is pardoned

That her iniquity is pardoned

The voice of Him

That crieth in the wilderness

Prepare ye the way of the Lord

Make straight in the desert

A highway for our God


The Music

Comfort Ye, My People is the second piece of music heard in Part I of Handel’s Messiah, as well as also being the first vocal work. Based on three verses, this work depicts the voice of God talking to the people. It is traditionally sung by a tenor. The slow and warm string opening sets the scene for the tenor to enter. The vocalist sings the first line, which is then mirrored at pitch by the violins. This is significant as it places the emphasis on the phrase ‘Comfort Ye’. The ebb and flow of the accompaniment add to the peaks and troughs of the vocal line, which keeps the ear interested in the music. 

This piece sits in the ‘Accompagnato’ category, as it is technically a recitative accompanied by the orchestra. Although technically a recitative, the song itself is lyrical in some aspects, and the warm tones of the tenor voice adds to this effect. The orchestra are used to not only accompany the voice, but to also lay a foundation for the voice to get their message across. The relationship between the two in this piece is highlighted through call and response motifs and Handel’s layering of harmony. The end Comfort Ye, My People segues into the next piece of the Messiah. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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