George F. Handel—Israel in Egypt

Israel in Egypt 2

George F. Handel. Israel in Egypt. London: Printed for William Randall, ca. 1771. pp. 96-97.

Israel in Egypt 3

Lilly Library M2000.H135 I86

            Handel’s English oratorio Israel in Egypt premiered in 1739 at the King’s Theatre in London. The work was not successful at this time. However, after undergoing significant revision in 1756, the piece came to be considered one of Handel’s most-loved choral efforts. The libretto, chronicling the events depicted in Exodus 1-15 and several Psalms, relates the Israelites’ struggles under Egyptian captivity, their release from slavery, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Israelites’ ensuing celebration at the prospect of freedom. Handel prominently uses the full choir to describe these events, rarely using soloists or recitative.

            The chorus displayed to the right contains the text, “But the waters overwhelmed their enemies, there was not one of them left.” Here, after the Israelites finished crossing the parted Red Sea, God brought the water back down on the pursuing Egyptian army. Listeners can get a sense of the flowing cascade with the constant running triplet rhythm in the strings. Also, the calamity of the situation can be felt via the brisk tempo and tympani bursts. The score used here, published around 1771, is the Lilly Library’s copy of the first edition.