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Handel's Messiah Essay

1196 words - 5 pages

Handel’s Messiah
No. 9 (measure 107-138)
Handel’s Messiah is a Baroque-era, awe-inspiring composition; rich with history, profound in meaning, and intensely intimidating when asked to dig deep into its inner workings. When first receiving this assignment, I was overwhelmed by what I was being asked to do. But after analyzing and critiquing the melody, adding figured bass symbols, macro-analyzing the chords, adding roman numerals, and commenting on the voice leading in chords moving in root position, I feel as if I have only scratched the surface of all Handel put into the Messiah. In this paper I will be discussing and critiquing the melody, addressing the effect of consonant and dissonant sounds, commenting on the uncommon motion between root position chords, and observing the aesthetic effect of what Handel did with this part of the Messiah.
Beginning with the melody, which I have assumed to be the vocal parts, the first thing I noticed was that in the soprano part there is a leap from an A3 to a D4, followed by an E4. This is interesting, because according to the principles of voice leading a melodic interval larger than a perfect fourth, which is what we have from the A to D, should be approached and left in the direction opposite to the leap or should outline a triad. What we have instead is a continuation upwards, without outlining a triad. This happens in the tenor part in measure 114, again in the bass part at the end of measure 119 to measure 120, and one last time, again in the bass part, with an octave leap. Handel breaks this rule as well as the rule of repeated figures of three or more tones. This can be found in measures 117 to 118 in tenor and alto, and also in measure 127, where all voices have multiple repeated notes. Sequencing, another rule Handel seemed to break frequently, can be found in measure 121 in the bass voice, among other places.
While the multiple repeated notes in the three lower voices comes across as rather monotonous, Handel makes up for it in his interesting use of consonance, followed by dissonance, then consonance again. This happens in measure 114 in the basso continuo. There is an A chord, first inversion, with the 8th notes C#-D-C#. The C#’s are consonant sounds, whereas the D is dissonant with the A chord. In chording, this would be called a suspended four chord; this chord has a root, a fourth (instead of a third), and a fifth. Oftentimes, this chord is associated with longing or anticipation, which would make sense considering the lyrics at this point in the piece are extolling the good tidings of Zion.
On the topic of chord structure, there are many instances where root position chords do not move according to the principles of root position part writing. The most common error is the motion between chords a second apart. Measure 108 gives a perfect example of this...

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