Joshua (Handel)

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Joshua (HWV 64) is an oratorio by George Frideric Handel. It was composed in a month, between 19 July 1747 and 19 August 1747, six months before the beginning of the oratorio season, and is Handel's fourth oratorio based on a libretto by Thomas Morell.[1] The oratorio premiered on 9 March 1748 at the Covent Garden Theatre, London. Joshua is based on the Biblical story of Joshua as the leader of the Children of Israel. The story follows the Israelites from their passage over the Jordan River into Caanan and through the Battle of Jericho. The work also includes a fictitious love story between Achsah, Caleb's daughter and Othniel, a young soldier.

Joshua is one of Handel's later works, from the height of his late creative period. It was the fourth oratorio Handel had written within the span of twenty months.[2] Following the Jacobite Rising in England, Handel produced a series of English oratorios based on military themes: Occasional Oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus, Alexander Balus, Joshua, and Solomon. With these compositions, Handel brought to prominence the English oratorio, combining religious themes and England's native tongue. Joshua was one of his shortest oratorios, containing no genuine overture, only a brief orchestral movement simply titled, "Introduction." Joshua also included at least five pieces borrowed from other Handel compositions. Part one was completed on 30 July 1747, Part two on 8 August and Part three on 19 August.[3]

Contrary to the popular style of monody, Handel's oratorios enhanced the role of the chorus in the drama. Handel's second-most-famous chorus, "See the Conq'ring Hero Comes" was first penned for Joshua. It was an immensely popular number and Handel soon added it to Judas Maccabaeus, which had premiered the season before. The chorus is more often thought of in connection with that oratorio (Judas) because of its relatively greater fame.

Dramatis personae[edit]

  • Joshua, Leader of the Israelites (Tenor) [4]
  • Othniel, a young warrior, promised to Achsah (Alto)
  • Caleb (Bass)
  • Achsah, Daughter of Caleb (Soprano)
  • Angel (Tenor)
  • Chorus of Israelites
  • Chorus of the defeated Israelites
  • Chorus of the Tribe of Judah
  • Chorus of Youths
  • Chorus of Virgins

Original 1749 cast:


[5] The original Baroque instruments used would have been:

Most of the arias in this piece are accompanied by strings, oboe and continuo, while the recitatives are sung only with continuo accompaniment. In early performances, the continuo part would have been played by a harpsichord player. The Part One aria 'Hark! Tis the linnet' features a traversa solo which acts as the song bird melody that Achsah then sings about. Timpani, tromba and corno are utilized during the more militaristic movements.

Plot Summary[edit]


Part One[edit]

Part One- The Children of Israel celebrate the end of their journey over the Jordan River and into the land of Canaan, praising God for his blessings and Joshua for his leadership. An angel appears to Joshua and appoints him to lead an army against Jericho. Joshua prepares his soldiers for the attack. Othniel, one of Joshua's warriors, is betrothed to Achsah and readies himself to part from his love and go into battle with Joshua.

Part Two[edit]

Joshua and his army destroy the mighty city of Jericho and then celebrated the Feast of the Passover. The army gets word of the defeat of Israel at Ai and Joshua gathers his men to renew their attacks. Othniel calls upon Achsah, but Caleb, her father, dismisses him, telling him to go join the war in the defense of Israel's allies. Miraculously, the sun and moon stay their courses, allowing the Israelites to continue fighting until they arise victorious.

Part Three[edit]

With the fighting over, Joshua is again lauded as a great leader. He then gives Caleb the land which had been promised to him by Moses. Caleb pledges his daughter's hand to whoever can conquer the City of Debir. Othniel rises to the occasion and asks God to guide him to success. He returns triumphant and Achsah praises God protecting her beloved. The people raise their thanksgivings to God for their prosperity and deliverance.



Part One[edit]

  • Introduction (Orchestra)
  • Ye sons of Israel (Chorus)
  • Behold, my friends (Tenor, Bass recitative)
  • Oh first in wisdom (Bass aria)
  • Matrons and Virgins (Soprano recitative)
  • Oh who can tell (Soprano aria)
  • Caleb, attend to all I now prescribe (Tenor recitative)
  • To long posterity (Tenor solo with Chorus)
  • So long the memory (Tenor recitative)
  • While Kedron's brook (Tenor aria)
  • But who is He (Alto recitative)
  • Awful pleasing being, say (Alto aria)
  • Joshua, I come commission'd (Tenor, Soprano recitative)
  • Leader of Israel (Tenor, Soprano recitative)
  • To give command (Tenor recitative)
  • Haste, Israel, haste (Tenor aria)
  • The Lord commands (Chorus)
  • In these blest scenes (Soprano, Alto recitative)
  • 'Tis Achsah's voice (Soprano, Alto recitative)
  • Hail, lovely virgin (Soprano, Alto aria)
  • Hark, hark! 'Tis the linnet (Soprano)
  • Oh Achsah, form'd for ev'ry chaste delight (Alto recitative)
  • Our limpid streams (Soprano, Alto duet)
  • The trumpet calls (Alto recitative)
  • May all the host of heaven (Chorus)

Part Two[edit]

  • 'Tis well (Tenor recitative)
  • March (Orchestra)
  • Glory to God (Tenor solo and Chorus)
  • The walls are levell'd (Bass recitative)
  • See the raging flames arise (Bass aria)
  • To vanity and earthly pride (Soprano aria)
  • Let all the seed of Abrah'm (Tenor recitative)
  • Almighty ruler of the skies (Tenor solo and Chorus)
  • Joshua, the men (Bass recitative)
  • How soon our tow'ring hopes are cross'd (Chorus)
  • Whence this dejection (Tenor recitative)
  • With redoubled rage return (Tenor aria)
  • We with redoubled rage (Chorus)
  • Now give the army breath (Alto recitative)
  • Heroes, when with glory burning (Alto aria)
  • Indulgent heaven hath heard (Soprano recitative)
  • As chears the sun (Soprano aria)
  • Sure I'm deceived (Bass, Alto recitative)
  • Nations, who in future story (Alto aria)
  • Brethren and friends (Tenor recitative)
  • Sinfonia (Orchestra)
  • Thus far our cause (Bass recitative)
  • Trumpet flourish (Orchestra)
  • Oh! thou bright orb (Tenor solo and Chorus)

Part Three[edit]

  • Hail! Mighty Joshua (Chorus)
  • Happy, oh, thrice happy we (Soprano aria)
  • Caleb, for holy Eleazer send (Tenor, Bass recitative)
  • Shall I in Mamre's fertile plain (Bass aria)
  • For all these mercies we will sing (Chorus)
  • Oh Caleb, fear'd by foes (Alto, Bass recitative)
  • Place danger around me (Alto aria)
  • Father of mercy (Chorus)
  • In bloom of youth (Tenor recitative)
  • See the conqu'ring hero comes (Trio SSA)
  • See the godlike youth advance (Duet SA)
  • See the conqu'ring hero comes (Chorus)
  • Welcome, my son (Bass, Alto, Soprano recitative)
  • Oh, had I Jubal's lyre (Soprano aria)
  • While life shall last (Alto recitative)
  • Oh peerless maid (Soprano, Alto duet)
  • While lawless tyrants (Bass recitative)
  • The great Jehovah (Chorus)

Notable Performances[edit]

[8] The first revival of Joshua occurred in 1752. Before the performance Handel cut the first aria entitled "O first in wisdom." He also expanded the overture by adding the fugue and courante from Solomon. For another performance in 1754, Handel again cut the first aria, but then added five more five pieces, including four arias and one recitative. Joshua was performed in Salisbury in 1754. It was performed again in 1756 during a three-day Handel festival and in London in 1755 and 1759. Other noteworthy performances include:

Notable Recordings[edit]

  • The King's Consort and New College Choir, August 1990. Conducted by Robert King. Produced by Ben Turner [9]
  • The London Handel Orchestra and Singers, November 2011. Conducted by Laurence Cummings. Somm Recordings.[10]


  1. ^ Winton, Dean. "Joshua." Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques. London: Oxford UP, 1966. N. pag. Print.
  2. ^ Dean, Winton (1966). Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques. UNCSA Music Library: Oxford University Press. p. 489. 
  3. ^ Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques. London: Oxford UP, 1966. N. pag. Print.
  4. ^ Joshua Choral Score- University of North Carolina School of the Arts Music Library Kalmus Classic Edition
  5. ^ IMSLP Joshua Full Score
  6. ^ Joshua Complete Score. Kamlus Edition. University of North Carolina School of the Arts Music Library
  7. ^ Joshua Complete Score. Kamlus Edition. University of North Carolina School of the Arts Music Library
  8. ^ Winton, Dean. "Joshua." Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques. London: Oxford UP, 1966. N. pag. Print.
  9. ^
  10. ^

11. Joshua HWV 64 Vocal Score; Edition Peters Edited by Andreas Schenck; CF Peters, Frankfurt

External links[edit]