Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Classical Era > Oratorio, "Mount of Olives" (Beethoven)
Oratorio, "Mount of Olives"
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Beethoven wrote but one oratorio, "Christus am Oelberge" ("Christ on the Mount of Olives"). It was begun in 1800 and finished during the following year. The text is by Huber, and was written, with Beethoven's assistance, in fourteen days. The first performance of the work is entirely took place at Vienna, April 5, 1803, at the Theater an der Wien.
The oratorio is written for three solo voices, Jesus, Peter, and a Seraph, and a chorus and orchestra. The narrative opens with the agony in the garden, followed by the chant of a Seraph reciting the divine goodness and foretelling the salvation of the righteous. In the next scene Jesus learns his fate from the Seraph, yields Himself to approaching death, and welcomes it. The soldiers enter in pursuit, and a tumult ensues as the apostles find themselves surrounded. Peter draws his sword and gives bent to his indigation; but is rebuked both by Jesus and Seraph, and together they conjure him to be silent and endure whatever may happen. The soldiers, discovering Jesus, rush upon him and bind him. The disciples express their apprehension that they too will suffer; but Jesus uncomplainingly surrenders Himself, and a chorus of rejoicing completes the work.
The score opens with an Adagio introduction for instruments which is of a very dramatic character. The first number is a recitative and aria for tenor, sung by Jesus ("All my soul within Me shudders"), and is simple and touching in expression. The Seraph follows with a scene and aria ("Praise the Redeemer's Goodness"), concluding with a jubilant obligato with chorus ("O triumph, all ye Ransomed!"). The next number is an elaborate duet between Jesus and the Seraph ("On Me then Thy heavy Judgment"). In a short recitative passage, Jesus welcomes death ; and then ensues one of the most powerful numbers in the work, the chorus of the soldiers in march time ("We surely here shall find Him"), interspersed with the cries of the people demanding His death, and the lamentations of the Apostles. At the conclusion of the tumult a dialogue ensues between Jesus and Peter ("Not unchastised shall this audacious Band"), which leads up to a trio betwen Jesus, Peter, and the Seraph, with chorus ("O, Sons of Men, with Gladness"). The closing number, a chorus of angels ("Hallelujah, God's almighty Son"), is introduced with a short but massive symphony leading to a jubilant burst of "Hallelujah," which finally resolves itself into a glorious fugue. In all sacred music it is difficult to find a choral number which can surpass it in majesty or power.