George Frederick Handel

Judas Maccabaeus, oratorio, HWV 63

    Description by Brian Robins

    During Handel's lifetime, Judas Maccabaeus was one of the most popular of all his oratorios. Following its hugely successful first performance at London's Covent Garden theater on April 1, 1747, the work was subsequently revived during Handel's oratorio seasons every year until his death in 1759, with the single exception of 1749. Yet the oratorio has its genesis in one of the bleaker periods of Handel's life. In 1745 he was forced to abandon his Covent Garden season for lack of support, and he was also in ill-health. Notwithstanding, Judas Maccabaeus was begun in the fall of that year. The work was temporarily laid aside in favor of The Occasional Oratorio, quickly composed and drawing heavily from preexisting material, as Handel's loyalist contribution to the fight to put down the serious Jacobite revolution launched by the Stuarts. Only after the threat of the rebellion's success was lifted following the bloodily conclusive battle of Culloden in April 1746 did Handel again take up the score, completing it on August 11.

    With its warlike story of the triumph of a Jewish hero over invading forces, Judas Maccabaeus formed the ideal victory celebration, and was overtly planned as such by Handel and his librettist, the Rev. Thomas Morrell. Indeed the latter designed his book as "a compliment to the Duke of Cumberland upon his returning victorious from Scotland." Its main source is the first book of Maccabees, which appears in the Apocrypha. The oratorio falls into three acts, the first of which opens after one of Handel's finest overtures, with the mourning of the Israelites lamenting the death of Mattathias, the father of Judas Maccabaeus and the leader of Jewish resistance to the invading Syrians. This somber opening sequence includes one of Handel's most famous arias, "Pious orgies," with its mournful tones underpinned by dark bassoons. The Israelites are galvanized by Judas, and the remainder of the oratorio is dominated by a militaristic triumphalism illustrated through some of Handel's grandest and most stirring choruses, among which "Sound an alarm" (Act Two) and "Sing unto God" (Act Three) are notable examples. At the end of the oratorio the exploits of Judas and his forces ensure a peace guaranteed by Roman power, a moment celebrated in one of the oratorio's few moments of repose in "O lovely peace," the lovely pastoral aria sung by the Israelite Woman.

    The famous number "See the conqu'ring Hero" is often associated with Judas, but was in fact originally composed for the oratorio's close relative, Joshua (1747); it was only later added to the present work. In keeping with the mood and scale of the work, Handel's lavish scoring includes trumpets, horns, and timpani in addition to the flutes, oboes, and the usual complement of strings. There are solo parts for soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, and two basses in addition to the usual four-part chorus. Judas Maccabaeus is one of the few oratorios to have remained popular from Handel's day through to the twenty-first century. A singular hit with the Jewish population of London at the time, it remains a celebration of the Feast of Hanukkah, which commemorates the events it depicts.


    1. Overture in G minor
    2. Mourn, ye afflicted children
    3. Well may your sorrows
    4. From this dread scene these, adverse pow'rs
    5. For Sion lamentation make
    6. Not vain is all this storm of grief
    7. Pious orgies, pious airs, decent sorrow
    8. Oh Father, whose almighty pow'r
    9. I feel the Deity within
    10. Arm, ye brave!
    11. 'Tis well, my friends
    12. Call forth thy pow'rs, my soul
    13. To Heav'ns Almighty King we kneel
    14. Oh liberty, thou choicest treasure
    15. Come, ever smiling liberty
    16. Oh Judas, may these noble views
    17. 'Tis liberty, dear liberty alone,
    18. Come, ever smiling liberty
    19. Lead on! Judah disdains the galling load of hostile chains
    20. So will'd my father now at rest
    21. Disdainful of danger, we'll rush on the foe, Semichorus
    22. Ambition! If e'er honour was thine aim
    23. No unhallow'd desire our breasts shall inspire
    24. Oh Judas, may thy just pursuits
    25. May balmy peace, and wreath'd renown
    26. Far brighter than the morning
    27. Haste we, my brethren
    28. Hear us, oh Lord
    29. Fall'n is the foe
    30. Victorious hero! Fame shall tell
    31. So rapid thy course is
    32. May well we hope our freedom receive
    33. Flowing joys do now surround me
    34. Sion now her head shall raise
    35. Oh let eternal honours crown his name,
    36. From mighty Kings we took the spoil
    37. Hail, Judea, happy land
    38. Thanks to my brethren
    39. How vain is man, who boasts in fight
    40. Great in wisdom, great in glory
    41. Oh Judas, of my brethen!
    42. Oh! wretched Israel!
    43. Be comforted
    44. The Lord worketh wonders
    45. My arms! against his Gorgias
    46. Sound an alarm! Your silver trumpets sound
    47. Enough! To heav'n leave the rest
    48. With pious hearts, and brave as pious
    49. Ye worshippers of God
    50. Wise men, flatt'ring may decieve us
    51. Oh! Never bow we down
    52. Father of Heav'n!,
    53. See yon flames, that from the altar broke
    54. Oh grant it, Heav'n that our long woes
    55. So shall the lute and harp awake
    56. From Capharsalama, on eagle wings I fly
    57. Pow'rful guardians of all nature
    58. All his mercies I review
    59. Happy, oh, thrice happy we
    60. Yet more, Nicanor lies with thousands slain
    61. But low! The conqueror comes
    62. See the conqu'ring hero comes!
    63. March in G major
    64. March in F major
    65. Sing unto God, and high affections raise
    66. Sweet flow the strains, that strike my feasted ear
    67. With honour let desert be crown'd
    68. Peace to my countrymen
    69. Oh! had I Jubal's lyre
    70. To our great God be all the honour giv'n
    71. Again the earth let gratitude descend
    72. Oh lovely peace, with plenty crown'd
    73. Rejoice, oh Judah! And, in songs divine
    74. Hallelujah Chorus and Amen
    75. Supplemental March in E flat major (fragment)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Brilliant Classics 95050BR
    2013 BR Klassik 900507
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94214
    2010 Ambronay 024
    2009 LEMS 8070
    2009 Decca 4781190
    2009 Decca
    2009 Berlin Classics 0184692
    2008 K&K Verlagsanstalt 11277
    2007 Alto 2002
    2006 Harmonia Mundi 2907374.75
    2005 Berlin Classics 3296
    2001 Brilliant 99267
    1999 Orfeo 4759921
    1998 DG Archiv
    1996 Berlin Classics 0091122
    1995 Vox 5125
    1995 Archiv Produktion / DG Archiv 447692
    1994 Christophorus 77128
    1993 Harmonia Mundi 907077
    1993 Vanguard 4071
    1992 Hyperion 66641
    Brilliant 99268