In the nineteenth century it was heard in Berlin in and , and the Sacred Harmonic Society performed the work in London in , setting the fashion for performances in Holland, Germany and England. Only the later twentieth century seems largely to have ignored the work.
Joshua was one of a quartet of oratorios written consecutively between and which have heavily militaristic overtones. The first of these was the Occasional Oratorio , performed three times at Covent Garden in and three more times in It seems clear that, following Judas Maccabaeus , Handel and his librettist Thomas Morell were intent on repeating the formula of a Jewish hero and triumphing choruses that had been so successful, adding this time the romantic sub-plot that Judas had lacked.
Joshua - Free Bible Commentary in easy English
But the characters are strong, with Joshua a commanding if at times insufferably conceited hero, Caleb a suitably patriarchal leader nearing retirement from the battlefield, his daughter Achsah a concerned, sometimes reproving character, betrothed to Othniel who is finding it hard to strike a balance between playing the young warrior and the devoted lover. There is an additional part, small but vital, for an Angel, named in a later score as having been sung by a tenor, but widely assumed to have been played in the earlier performances by the more expected soprano or boy treble.
The choral and orchestral forces recorded here are similar in scale to those that Handel used in his performances, although we have included a few more trebles. Our twentieth century choir needed no such assistance, but our Angel soloist follows historical precedent and sings in the choruses too! At three points in the score Handel indicates that brass fanfares are to be inserted, giving a short rhythmic cue over which the players led by the principal trumpeter would have improvised the necessary music. With dramatic incidents such as the tumbling walls of Jericho, the razing by fire of the city, Joshua stopping the sun and moon in their tracks and his rousing an army of depressed troops, not to mention the triumphal return of the warrior after battle, here was heroic material to stimulate any composer.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the destruction of Jericho in the second Act leads Handel into one of his greatest thunder choruses, and one which impressed Haydn at a large-scale performance in Westminster Abbey in He is reported as having:.
Handel was clearly anxious to get on with the action. Othniel, a young warrior betrothed to Achsah appears on the scene at the same moment as an angel. Joshua is for a change suitably reverent and, in a dramatic accompagnato, the Angel delivers his bloodthirsty message that Jericho must be destroyed, giving the comforting assurance that victory will be easy.
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He orders the final trumpet blast. Solo trumpet and horn echo the preceding March, Joshua praises God, the massed choral and orchestral forces reinforce him and, with insistent dotted rhythms in the orchestra, the walls begin to totter. In a musical score which is black with notes the awe-struck chorus cower, the brass blast chilling low fanfares, the strings vividly represent the tumbling walls in rapid scales and the timpani thunder.
Once again it is Achsah who tries to bring the Israelites down to earth, attempting to convince them that their triumph will not last. Joshua, seeing such dejection, rouses the miserable troops, reminding them of their success at Jericho. Caleb is furious seeing Othniel wasting his time with Achsah and, sending his daughter away, stirs Othniel back into warrior-like action with the news that the Gibeonite allies are endangered by a Canaanite league under Adoni-zedeck, King of Jerusalem.
Act I: Aria: Oh!
Who can tell, oh! Who can hear Achsah.
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Act I: To long to posterity we were record Chorus, Joshua. Act I: Recitative: How long shall the memory last Joshua. Act I: Recitative: But, who is he?
Act I: Aria: Awful, pleasing being say Othniel. Act I: Recitative: To give command, prerogative is thine Joshua.
Act I: Recitative: 'Tis Achsah's voice! Act I: Aria: Hark!
Act I: May all the host of heav'n attend him round Chorus. Act II: Glory to God! Act II: How soon tow'ring our hopes are cross'd Chorus. Act II: Recitative: Whence this dejection? Act III: Hail!