George Frideric Handel: For Behold, Darkness

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

For Behold Darkness

Shall Cover The Earth

And Gross Darkness

The People

But The Lord Shall

Rise Upon Thee

And His Glory Shall

Be Seen Among Thee

And The Gentiles

Shall come to Thy Light

And Kings to life

Of thy rising

(Isiah: 60:2-3)


The Music

A stark contrast to O Thou Tellest Good Tidings to Zion, For Behold, Darkness is a bass accompagnato. Accompanying the bass the strings play repeated major and minor seconds which create an interesting ebb and flow behind the vocals. The darkness of the voice adds to the overall effect of this piece, as the bass moves as one with the strings both in dynamic and intensity. Handel scatters his famous word painting throughout this piece, with words such as ‘Rising’ and ‘Darkness’ receiving particular treatment for dramatic effect. 

The music takes a turn as the bass starts to sing about the Lord arising. The word ‘Glory’ sees the voice take a big leap to proclaim the message before the piece comes to a close. Throughout, the strings and bass complement each other by using call and response, unison writing and major/minor harmonies. For Behold, Darkness concludes with a final proclamation from the voice before the strings play the main theme once more before ending. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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