George Frederick Handel

Solomon, oratorio, HWV 67

    Description by Allen Schrott

    Solomon was one of two oratorios that Handel composed for the 1749 Lenten concert season in London (the other being Susannah); as was his habit, he composed the work during the relatively open months of the previous summer (May/June, 1748) when his energies were less divided by the presentation of concerts and operas. Textual similarities between Solomon and Susannah suggest their librettos -- both of exceptional quality -- were written by the same person; unfortunately there is no record of the author's identity. Both libretti were once thought to be the work of Thomas Morell -- the author of Jeptha, Judas Maccabaeus, Theodora, and Joshua -- but any close examination of the texts reveals irreconcilable stylistic disparities.

    Most of the text for Solomon was based on scriptural passages drawn from II Chronicles and I Kings; as the title of the work makes clear, the selected passages are those dealing with the renowned King Solomon. It is possible that Handel's choice of this subject matter was his tribute to King George II of England, a generous patron, and under whose rule England enjoyed a period of comparable prosperity; but -- unlike Judas Maccabaeus, in which case Handel wrote letters specifically outlining his intended tribute to the victorious Duke of Cumberland -- there is no textual evidence to establish this as fact.

    In portraying the biblical Solomon, the anonymous librettist chose to divide his work into three acts, each of which sheds a slightly different light on his subject. The first act evokes the sensual and poetic voice from the Song of Solomon; the king and his new wife express their mutual rapture and contentment. The Solomon portrayed here is fiercely devoted to his lone queen -- far from faithful to scripture, in which he is said to have had many hundreds of wives, and half again as many concubines! The second act takes up Solomon's most famous action, namely his resolution of the dispute between two harlots, each of whom claims to be the rightful mother of a baby; by suggesting that he cut the child in half and give one part to each woman, he ferrets out their true intentions and justly resolves the case. Act three takes as its subject a visit by the Queen of Sheba. Solomon presents the wonders of his kingdom to her in the form of a musical masque.

    Handel's score is notable for the inclusion of a full array of brass instruments, and an unusually large complement of strings, both of which lend the score a particular opulence and richness; this is often highlighted by the composer's division of the chorus into five, or sometimes eight, parts. The opening sinfonia is of unusual scope for Handel's oratorios. It has been suggested that one of the most popular excerpts from Solomon, namely the entrance of the Queen of Sheba from the third act, was not actually composed for the work at hand, but rather was borrowed from another unfinished project.

    The first performance of Solomon took place on March 17, 1749, at Covent Garden and under the composer's direction. Although this was a reasonable success, and despite the consistently high quality of the libretto -- drawing from Handel some of his most highly shaded melodies and characterizations -- the work never gained the popularity enjoyed by a number of his other oratorios. In modern performance it is often subject to substantial cuts which, although they trim the length of performance from its full two-and-one-half hours, tend to compromise the carefully balanced structure of the work as a whole.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Overture in B flat major
    2. Sinfonia in D major, Variation for 1759 Edition
    3. You harps and cymbals sound
    4. Prais' be the Lord, from whom all wisdom springs, Variation for 1759 Edition
    5. When the sun gives brightest day, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    6. Praise ye the Lord for all his mercies past
    7. With pious heart, and holy tongue
    8. Wise, great, and good, above thy years endu'd, Variation for 1759 Edition
    9. Almighty pow'r! who rul'st the earth and skies
    10. Imperial Solomon, thy pray'rs are heard
    11. See! from the op'ning skied descending flames
    12. Sacred raptures cheer my breast
    13. Throughout the land Jehovah's praise,
    14. Blest be the Lord, who look'd with gracious eyes
    15. What though I trace each herb and flow'r
    16. And see my Queen, my wedded love
    17. Bless'd the day when first my eyes
    18. Thou fair inhabitant of Nile
    19. Welcome as the dawn of day to the pilgrim on his way
    20. From Arabia's spicy shores, Variation for 1759 edition
    21. Vain are the transient beauties of the face
    22. Indulge thy faith and wedded truth
    23. To view the wonders of thy throne, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    24. My blooming fair, come away
    25. Haste to the cedar grove
    26. When thou art absent from my sight
    27. With thee th'unshelter'd moor I'd thread
    28. Search round the world
    29. May no rash intruder disturb their soft hours
    30. From the censer curling rise grateful incense
    31. Prais'd be the Lord
    32. Sad solemn sounds, o ease my breast, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    33. Sad solemn sounds, o ease my breast, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    34. When the sun o'er yonder hills pours
    35. Great prince, thy resolution's just
    36. Next the tortur'd soul release, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    37. Beneath the vine or figtree's shade, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    38. Thrice bless'd that wise discerning King
    39. My sovereign liege, two women stand
    40. Love from such a parent sprung, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    41. Thou son of David, hear a mother's grief
    42. Words are weak to paint my fears
    43. Love from such a parent sprung, Variation for the 1759 Editon
    44. What says the other
    45. Ages to come shall hail these happy days, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    46. Thy sentence, great King, is prudent and wise
    47. Withhold the executing hand!
    48. Can I see my infant gor'd
    49. Israel, attend to what your King shall say
    50. Thrice bless'd be the King
    51. This musick is divine, O King, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    52. But when the Temple I behold, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    53. From the east unto the west
    54. From morn to eve I could enraptur'd sing
    55. See the tall Palm that lifts the head
    56. The shepherd shall hail him
    57. No more shall armed bands
    58. Beneath the vine or figtree's shade
    59. Swell the full chorus to Solomon's praise
    60. Sinfonia in B flat major, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
    61. From Arabia's spicy shores
    62. How green our fertile pastures look, Variation for the 1759 Edition
    63. Ev'ry sight these eyes behold
    64. Sweep the string, to sooth the royal fair
    65. Music, spread thy voice around
    66. Now a diff'rent measure try
    67. Then at once from rage remove
    68. Draw the tear from hopeless love
    69. Next the tortur'd soul release
    70. Thus rolling surges rise
    71. Thy harmony's divine, great King
    72. Pious king, and virtuous queen
    73. Thrice happy king, to have achiev'd
    74. Golden columns, fair and bright
    75. Praise the Lord with harp and tongue!
    76. Gold now is common on our happy shore
    77. How green our fertile pastures look!
    78. May peace in Salem ever dwell!
    79. Will the sun forget to streak eastern skies
    80. Adieu, fair queen
    81. Ev'ry joy that wisdom knows
    82. The name of the wicked shall quickly be past
    83. Indulge thy faith and wedded thruth, Supplemental Recitative
    84. Swell the full chorus to Solomon's praise, Supplemental Chorus
    85. Supplemental Symphony in B flat major
    86. Sweep thy string, to sooth the blooming fair, Supplemental Recitative
    87. Well, my fait Queen, in converse sweet, Supplemental Recitative (fragment)
    88. Will the sun forget to streak eastern skies, Supplemental Air (fragment)
    89. Will the sun forget to streak eastern skies, Supplemental Air (fragment)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Harmonia Mundi HMY 2921949/50
    2015 Brilliant Classics 95050BR
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94214
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099963160
    2009 Decca
    2009 Berlin Classics 0184682BC
    2007 Carus 83242
    2006 Naxos 8 557574/5
    2006 Philips 000667002
    2006 K&K Verlagsanstalt 73
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243586516
    2001 Brilliant 99267
    2000 Berlin Classics 0021892BC
    1999 Archiv Produktion 459688
    1985 Philips 412612
    Medici Quartet 4001
    Harmonia Mundi 901949.50
    SOMM 017
    Brilliant 99269
    Vanguard SVC146/7
    Decca 475 8073DB5