Recorded on 09/10/2010, uploaded on 09/10/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
The oratorio Samson is one of Handel's finest dramatic works, entirely worthy of its position next
to the glorious Messiah. It was begun
a mere two weeks after the completion of Messiah and finished within a month. However, Handel may have already had the work in
the back of his mind for quite some time. In 1739, Handel was present at a
private reading of Samson Agonistes,
John Milton's interpretation of the story of Samson from the Old Testament. At
pauses during the reading, Handel improvised short pieces at the harpsichord as
accompaniment. The host of this reading, the Earl of Shaftesbury, remarked that
Handel's improvisations were "perfectly adapted to the sublimity of the poem."
Unfortunately for us, no transcripts of these improvisations were ever made
and, therefore, we have no way of knowing if this event played any significant
role in the formation of the oratorio.
Samson Agonistes comes from Milton's later years and is largely based on the events of the 16th chapter of the Book of Judges. The libretto for Handel's oratorio was prepared
by Newburgh Hamilton. Unlike Handel's other sacred oratorios that were either
re-workings of existing plays or altogether new creations, Hamilton struck an
exceptional balance between the language and literary genius of Milton's poem
and the dramatic effects Handel required to compose an effective oratorio.
Though it was completed in October 1741, Samson was not performed until February
18th, 1743. After its completion Handel departed for Dublin where he
premiered Messiah as well as
performing many of his other works. After returning to London in late summer of
1742, Handel set to preparing Samson for production which included numerous revisions. Its premiere was a great
success. A total of seven performances took place during its first season
alone, more than any of Handel's other oratorios. It was highly popular during
Handel's lifetime and even today remains one his most oft-performed works. Like
his other oratorios, certain numbers from Samson are also popular recital pieces, particularly the arias "Let the bright
Seraphim" and "Total Eclipse." Joseph DuBose
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