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CNP Feedback - Worthy Is the Lamb

Q. Dear CNP:

My question is regarding your suggestion of using
Worthy is the Lamb from Handel's Messiah on Christ the King Sunday. That particular chorus ends on a half cadence. Do you have a suggested way of resolving that cadence without doing the Amen chorus?

Handel Fan

A. Dear Handel Fan:

Thanks for the inquiry about using Handel's Worthy Is the Lamb for the Solemnity of Christ the King. I can think of three ways of "Handel-ing" the half cadence (sorry about that! – had to do it).

  1. End Worthy Is the Lamb four measures from the end, after the soprano descending pattern: F# E D D – use a big ritardando.
  2. Sing Worthy Is the Lamb to the end, all the way through the half cadence; jump to the last three measures of the Amen chorus, which provide two homophonic "Amens" and finish in the proper key.
  3. Sing Worthy Is the Lamb, ending four measures from the end (as in #1 above); then jump to the last three measures of the Amen chorus.

Of these options, I like #3 best. It avoids the half cadence altogether.

Here's some background information on both the oratorio and the choruses.

Alfred Mann, in his introduction to the Dover edition of Messiah, writes,

Handel's Messiah holds an extraordinary place among the composer's works and in the history of Western music — no other work has met with the same wide and enduring response. Thus it also holds an extraordinary place in the history of performance: it is the only work of its time that has seen a continuous sequence of revivals, for almost two decades under the direction of the composer, for two further decades under conductors who had shared Handel's work on the London scene, and for the two following centuries through the devotion of generation after generation.

Handel frequently reworked arias and even choruses to accommodate the skills of the singers and instrumentalists with whom he worked for each performance. Hence there are numerous versions, even in Handel's own hand, of this beloved oratorio. The Dover edition footnotes 21 other manuscripts and their locations. This does not take into account the popular adaptation at the hands of W.A. Mozart, who liberally added instruments to the orchestra (clarinets, trombones, etc.), to conform with 18th century tastes.

The final two choruses of George Frideric Handel's oratorio, Messiah, are:

  • Worthy Is the Lamb
  • Amen

The text for the first comes from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 5, Verse 12-13. There are manuscripts which indicate that Handel considered a shortened version of the chorus, omitting measures 39-53. Another manuscript indicates an altering of the text in measure 26 to: "God, for ever and ever. Amen, amen." This may further have reduced the length of the chorus and eliminated completely the final fugal Amen chorus.

In any case, there is certainly precedent (from the composer himself) to alter the music to the situation at hand.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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