The Early Oratorio

  April 18, 2022   Read time 2 min
The Early Oratorio
Although the musical drama began in both secular and sacred varieties, the Venetian attention to the former left the latter undeveloped. The one Italian oratorio-composer to be emphasized "is Carissimi.

Before his time the difference between the two forms (so far as both were attempted) lay only in topic and text, both being given with scenery, costume and action, and with the same musical materials. Carissimi set aside the theatrical presentation, often committed dramatic details to a ' Narrator,' emphasized the function of the chorus, and fully recognized the value of a distinct oratorio manner. His own oratorios were short, but are still decidedly interesting. He also, as has been noted, developed the cantata - a work utilizing the dramatic forms Qf recitative and aria, with a IT10re or less dramatic plan, but designed either for a single voice or for a few voices, and available {or use in actual church services, often with organ accompaniment.

Giacomo Carissimi (d. 1674), born near Rome about 1604 and probably trained there, was from 1624 choirmaster at Assisi and from 1628 at S. Apollinare in Rome, remaining till his death. His oratorios number 15 or more, the most famous being JejJhta and Jonas (dates unknown). His church music includes many motets and some masses (one for 12 voices on the old melody L'o11111ze ar11zc, said to be the last written- on that hackneyed 'subject '). He left nlany cantatas, together with some secular and halfhumorous pieces, with a treatise on singing (known only in German, 3d ed. 1689). His contributions to the monodic style have already been mentioned. As a contrapuntist he was notable, not as a follower of Palestrina, but for the accommodation of the old facility to the new conceptions of tonality. He is commonly reckoned as next to Monteverdi in importance in the century.

Carissimi stands almost alone in his adherence to Biblical subjects in his oratorios - the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, J ephtha, the J udgment of Solomon, Ezechiel, Job, Jonah, Daniel, 'Belshazzar, the Last Judgment, the Joy of the Blessed. Among other oratorios up to 1670, only a few are strictly Biblical, while several celebrate the life of some saint (especially Loyola), and some are moralities or similar works.

The meagre list of Italian oratorio-writers in the early period includes Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger (d. 1650?), a pretentious German theorbist who pushed himself into church circles at Rome, writing 2 oratorios (c. 1630), an opera, madrigals, solo works and several lute-books (from 16°4); Domenico Mazzocchi, a R0111an lawyer, the first to mention the signs for crescendo and diminuendo, with 2 oratorios ( 1631); Stefano Landi (1634) ; Luigi Rossi, an early Roman writer of cantatas; Loreto Vittori (d. 1670) of the Papal .Chapel ([647), besides cantatas; Francesco Bazzini (d. 1660), a noted theorbist of Bergamo (co 1650); Marco Marazzoli (d. 1662), one at Rome (1658), besides others in MS.; Giovanni Antonio Boretti of Parma GiuseffoTricarico at Vienna (1661); P. A. Ziani (d. 171I) of Bergamo, later at Vienna, with 2 (1662); Giovanni Antonio Manara of Bologna, with 3 ( 1665- 85); and Maurizio Cruciati, also of Bologna ( 1667) .