Judas Maccabaeus (Handel)

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Judas Maccabaeus
Oratorio by George Frideric Handel
Handel portrayed by Balthasar Denner, 1729
CatalogueHWV 63
Year1746 (1746)
Textby Thomas Morell
Based on1 Maccabees
Performed1 April 1747 (1747-04-01): London Royal Opera House

Judas Maccabaeus (HWV 63) is an oratorio in three acts composed in 1746 by George Frideric Handel based on a libretto written by Thomas Morell. The oratorio was devised as a compliment to the victorious Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland upon his return from the Battle of Culloden (16 April, 1746).[1] Other catalogues of Handel's music have referred to the work as HG xxii; and HHA 1/24.[2]


Morell's libretto is based on the deuterocanonical (or apocryphal) book 1 Maccabees (2–8), with motives added from the Jewish Antiquities by Josephus.

The events depicted in the oratorio are from the period 170–160 BC when Judea was ruled by the Seleucid Empire which undertook to destroy the Jewish religion. Being ordered to worship Zeus, many Jews obeyed under the threat of persecution; however, some did not. One who defied was the elderly priest Mattathias who killed a fellow Jew who was about to offer a pagan sacrifice. After tearing down a pagan altar, Mattathias retreated to the hills and gathered others who were willing to fight for their faith.[1]

Handel's music depicts the changing moods of the Jewish people as their fortunes vary from dejection to jubilation.[1]

Part 1[edit]

The people mourn the death of their leader Mattathias, but his son Simon tries to restore their faith and calls them to arms (Arm, arm, ye brave). Simon's brother, Judas Maccabaeus, assumes the role of leader and inspires the people with thoughts of liberty and victory through the power of Jehovah.[1]

Part 2[edit]

The people have been victorious, but Judas is concerned that vanity will cause the people to claim victory for themselves. When news arrives that the Seleucid commander Gorgias is preparing to enact revenge, the people's joyous mood gives way to wailing and dejection (Ah! wretched Israel!). Again Judas rallies the people (Sound an alarm) and insists that the pagan altars must be destroyed and that false religions must be resisted.[1][3]

Part 3[edit]

Victory has finally been achieved for the Jewish people (See, the Conqu'ring Hero Comes!). News arrives that Rome is willing to form an alliance with Judas against the Seleucid empire. The people rejoice that peace has at last come to their country (O lovely peace).[1]

First performance[edit]

The first performance took place on 1 April, 1747 at the Royal Opera House, and Judas Maccabaeus became one of Handel's most popular oratorios. The General Advertiser (issued on the day prior to the concert) announced the event as:[4]

At the Theatre-Royal in Covent-Garden
To-morrow, will be perform'd a New Oratorio,
With a New Concerto
Pit and Boxes to be put together, and no
Person to be admitted without Tickets, which
will be delivered that Day, at the Office at
Covent-Garden Theatre, at Half a Guinea
each. First Gallery 5s.; Second Gallery 3s.6d.
The Galleries to be Open'd at Half an Hour
after Four o'Clock.
Pit and Boxes at Five.
To begin at Half an Hour after Six o'Clock.

The performers in this original 1747 production included:

The famous chorus See, the Conqu'ring Hero Comes! was composed during the summer of 1747 for Handel's next oratorio, Joshua. In the wake of its popularity, probably in 1751, Handel added it to Judas Maccabaeus, and so it forms a legitimate part of both oratorios.


The oratorio was published in London after the composer's death by William Randall, the successor to John Walsh.

Judas Maccabaeus was translated into German and published in 1866 as Volume 22 of the complete works series of the Händel-Gesellschaft.

Literary reference[edit]

Come, ever smiling Liberty, / And with thee bring thy jocund train is sung by Maria, the heroine of Mary Wollstonecraft's novel Maria (1798), at the point where she believes herself to have escaped from her abusive husband. She calls her state "Comparative liberty", suggesting that "the jocund train lagged far behind!" because she takes no pleasure in her need for the separation.[5]



A re-orchestration of Judas Maccabaeus has been attributed to Mozart. The score in question updates Handel's original in a similar way to Mozart's 1789 version of Handel's Messiah. It has been suggested that this version of Judas Maccabaeus represents one of the projects instigated by Mozart's patron Gottfried van Swieten, who promoted the revival of baroque music. However, unlike the re-orchestration of Messiah, which is definitely by Mozart, it has not been possible to confirm Judas Maccabaeus was his. The work survives in a score in an unknown hand which was rediscovered in 2001, having been presented to the Halifax Choral Society in 1850.[6][7]

Nazi text[edit]

Under the Nazis the work was subject to "aryanization", a new text being provided so that Handel's music could be performed without reference to Jewish culture.[8]

See, the Conqu'ring Hero Comes![edit]

The third act chorus See, the Conqu'ring Hero Comes! has been adapted and re-used several times.

In Britain during the 19th century, "See, the Conqu'ring Hero Comes!" gained familiarity as a tune frequently played by brass bands at the opening of new railway lines and stations.[9]

Ludwig van Beethoven composed twelve variations for piano and cello in 1796 (WoO 45).[10] Later, Henry Wood used the tune for a movement in his Fantasia on British Sea Songs (1905), which is regularly played at the Last Night of the Proms.

As a hymn tune, Handel's melody is most frequently associated with two texts: the German Advent song "Tochter Zion, freue dich" by Friedrich Heinrich Ranke (first published in 1826); and as an Easter hymn based on a French-language text by the Swiss writer Edmond Louis Budry ("À toi la gloire, O Ressuscité!"), which was later translated in English as "Thine Be the Glory".

A Hebrew language version of the hymn was composed by Levin Kipnis in 1936, titled "Hava Narima" [he] (הבה נרימה, "Let us raise"). This version maintains the theme of Judas Maccabaeus and his victories against the Seleucid Empire, and due to its subject matter is popularly sung during Hanukkah by Jewish communities in Israel and elsewhere.


The following orchestration was recorded by Chrysander in the Händel-Gesellschaft edition of 1866:

  • violins I, II
  • violas
  • cellos
  • basses (double-bass, bassi)
  • recorders I, II (flauto)
  • oboes I, II
  • flutes I, II (traversa)
  • horns I, II (corno)
  • trumpets I, II, III (tromba)
  • bassoon I, II (fagotti)
  • timpani
  • organ
  • keyboard

Dramatis personae[edit]

  • Judas Maccabaeus (tenor)
  • Simon, his Brother (bass)
  • Israelitish Woman (soprano)
  • Israelitish Man (mezzo-soprano)
  • Eupolemus, the Jewish Ambassador to Rome (alto)
  • First Messenger (alto)
  • Second Messenger (bass)
  • Chorus of Israelites
  • Chorus of Youths
  • Chorus of Virgins


The following table summarises the movements of the oratorio.[11]

Part No. Type Title Voices Tempo Time Signature Key Signature
1 1 Overture Largo, Allegro, Largo 4/4, 3/8, 4/4 G minor
1 2 Chorus Mourn, ye afflicted children Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Largo 4/4 C minor
1 3 Recitative Well may your sorrows Israelitish man (Tenor) 4/4
1 4 Duet From this dread scene Israelitish man (Tenor),
Israelitish woman (Alto)
Andante e staccato 3/4 G minor
1 5 Chorus For Sion lamentation make Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Larghetto e un poco piano, Adagio 12/8, 4/4 F minor
1 6 Recitative Not vain is all this storm of grief Simon 4/4
1 7 Air Pious orgies Israelitish woman Largo e sostenuto 4/4 E flat major
1 8 Chorus O Father, whose Almighty power Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Larghetto, Allegro 3/4, 4/4 B flat major
1 9 Recitative
I feel the Deity within Simon 4/4
1 10 Air Arm, arm, ye brave Simon Allegro 4/4 C major
1 11 Chorus We come, in bright array Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 3/4 C major
1 12 Recitative 'Tis well, my friends Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
1 13 Air Call forth thy powers Judas Maccabaeus Allegro 4/4 D major
1 14 Recitative To Heaven's Almighty King we kneel Israelitish woman 4/4
1 15 Air O Liberty, thou choicest treasure Israelitish woman Largo 4/4 A major
1 16 Air Come, ever-smiling Liberty Israelitish woman Andante 6/8 A major
1 17 Recitative O Judas, may these noble views inspire Israelitish man 4/4
1 18 Air 'Tis Liberty Israelitish man Larghetto, Adagio, Larghetto 4/4 E major
1 19 Duet Come, ever-smiling Liberty Israelitish woman,
Israelitish man (mezzo-soprano)
Andante 6/8 A major
1 20 Chorus Lead on, lead on Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 4/4 D major
1 21 Recitative
(end accompanied)
So willed my father Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
1 22 Chorus Disdainful of danger Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 3/8 G major
1 23 Recitative Ambition! if e'er honour was thine aim Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
1 24 Air No unhallow'd desire Judas Maccabaeus Allegro 6/8 B flat major
1 25 Recitative Haste we, my brethren Israelitish man (Tenor) 4/4
1 26 Chorus Hear us, O Lord Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass A tempo giusto 4/4 F major
2 27 Chorus Fallen is the foe Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro moderato 4/4 D minor
2 28 Recitative Victorious hero Israelitish man 4/4
2 29 Air So rapid thy course is Israelitish man Allegro, Adagio (last five bars) 3/8 G major
2 30 Recitative Well may hope our freedom to receive Israelitish man (Soprano) 4/4
2 31 Duet Sion now her head shall raise Israelitish woman,
Israelitish man (Soprano)
Andante 3/4 G major
2 32 Chorus Tune your harps Soprano (1st & 2nd), Alto, Tenor, Bass Andante 3/4 G major
2 33 Recitative O let eternal honours crown his name Israelitish woman 4/4
2 34 Air From mighty kings he took the spoil Israelitish woman Andante, Allegro (fine) 12/8, 4/4 (fine) A major
2 35 Duet Hail, Judea, happy land Israelitish man (Contralto),
Israelitish woman
Allegro 4/4 D major
2 36 Chorus Hail, Judea, happy land Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 4/4 D major
2 37 Recitative Thanks to my brethren Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
2 38 Air How vain is man who boasts in fight Judas Maccabaeus Andante 4/4 F major
2 39 Recitative O Judas! O my brethren Israelitish messenger (Alto) 4/4
2 40 Air Ah! wretched Israel Israelitish woman Largo 3/4 C minor
2 41 Chorus Ah! wretched Israel Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Largo, Adagio (ending) 3/4 C minor
2 42 Recitative Be comforted Simon 4/4
2 43 Air The Lord worketh wonders Simon Allegro 4/4 A minor
2 44 Recitative My arms! against this Gorgias will I go Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
2 45 Air Sound an alarm Judas Maccabaeus Allegro 6/8 D major
2 46 Chorus We hear Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 6/8 D major
2 47 Recitative Enough! to Heaven we leave Simon 4/4
2 48 Air With pious hearts Simon Larghetto 3/4 G minor
2 49 Recitative Ye worshippers of God Israelitish man (Contralto) 4/4
2 50 Air Wise men, flattering, may deceive you Israelitish woman Larghetto 3/4 F major
2 51 Duet O never bow we down Israelitish woman,
Israelitish man (Contralto)
Andante 3/4 C minor
2 52 Chorus We never will bow down Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Andante 3/4 C minor, C major
3 53 Air Father of Heaven Israelitish man (Contralto) Andante larghetto 4/4 F major
3 54 Recitative See, see yon flames Israelitish man (Contralto) 4/4
3 55 Recitative O grant it, Heaven Israelitish woman 4/4
3 56 Air So shall the lute and harp awake Israelitish woman Allegro, Adagio (ending) 4/4 B flat major
3 57 Recitative From Capharsalama Israelitish messenger (Alto),
Israelitish messenger (Bass)
3 58 Chorus of Youths;
Chorus of Virgins;
See the conquering hero comes Soprano (1st & 2nd), Alto;
Soprano (1st & 2nd);
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
2/2 G major
3 59 March Allegro 2/2 G major
3 60 Duet; Chorus Sing unto God Alto, Tenor; Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 4/4 D major
3 61 Recitative Sweet flow the strains Judas Maccabaeus 4/4
3 62 Air With honour let desert be crowned Judas Maccabaeus Andante larghetto 4/4 A minor
3 63 Recitative Peace to my countrymen Eupolemus 4/4
3 64 Chorus To our great God Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro 4/4 G minor
3 65 Recitative Again to earth let gratitude descend Israelitish woman 4/4
3 66 Duet O lovely peace Israelitish woman,
Israelitish man (Alto)
Allegro 6/8 G major
3 67 Air Rejoice, O Judah Simon Andante allegro 4/4 D major
3 68 Chorus Hallelujah, Amen Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Allegro, Adagio (ending) 4/4 D major


Judas Maccabaeus discography
Year Cast
(Judas Maccabaeus t, Israelitish Woman s,
Simon bar, Israelitish Man ms,
Messenger a, Eupolemus bs)
Conductor, orchestra and chorus Label
1963 Jan Peerce
Martina Arroyo
David Smith
Mary Davenport
Mary Davenport
Lawrence Avery
Thomas Scherman
Vienna State Opera orchestra
Vienna Academy chorus
CD: VoxBox
Cat: 5125
1971 Alexander Young
Heather Harper
John Shirley-Quirk
Helen Watts
Patricia Clark
Jean Temperley
Johannes Somary
English Chamber Orchestra
Amor Artis Chorale
CD: Vanguard Classics
Cat: OVC 4072
April 1976, Watford Town Hall Ryland Davies
Felicity Palmer
John Shirley-Quirk
Janet Baker
Paul Esswood
Christopher Keyte
Charles Mackerras
English Chamber Orchestra
Wandsworth School Choir
CD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 447692
1992 Jamie MacDougall
Emma Kirkby
Catherine Denley
Michael George
James Bowman
Simon Birchall
Robert King
The King's Consort
Choir of New College Oxford
CD: Hyperion
Cat: CDA66641/2
1993 Guy de Mey
Lisa Saffer
David Thomas
Patricia Spence
Brian Asawa
Leroy Kromm
Nicholas McGegan
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
U.C. Berkeley Chamber chorus
CD: Harmonia Mundi
Cat: HMX 2907374.75
2009 Timothy Bentch
Andrea Lauren Brown
Ed Bara
Dana Wilson
Richard Shapp
Tatyana Rashkovsky
Valentin Radu
Ama Deus Ensemble Baroque orchestra and chorus
CD: Lyrichord
Cat: LEMS 8070
2019 Kenneth Tarver
Deanna Breiwick
Joao Fernandes
Sophie Harmsen
Owen Willetts
Laurence Cummings
Göttingen International Handel Festival orchestra
NDR chorus
CD: Accent Records
Cat: ACC26410

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f "Judas Maccabaeus – G F Handel (1685–1759)". choirs.org.uk. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  2. ^ Hicks, Anthony (2001). "Handel, George Frideric". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. x (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. p. 785.
  3. ^ "Libretto: Judas Maccabaeus". Opera. Stanford University. 20 October 1999. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  4. ^ Channon 2003, Novello's Original Octavo July 1923 edition.
  5. ^ Wollstonecraft 2006, p. 70.
  6. ^ "New Mozart found in Yorkshire". BBC News. 14 March 2001.
  7. ^ Cowgill, Rachel (2002). "An Unknown Handel Arrangement by Mozart?: The Halifax Judas". The Musical Times. 143 (1878): 19–36. doi:10.2307/1004420. JSTOR 1004420.
  8. ^ "Nazis 'aryanize' Handel's "judas Maccabaeus" January 17, 1941".
  9. ^ Warwick, Jacqueline (2017). Musicological Identities: Essays in Honor of Susan McClary. Routledge. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-351-55675-0.
  10. ^ "12 Variations on 'See the conqu'ring hero comes', WoO 45 (Beethoven, Ludwig van)". imslp.org. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  11. ^ Channon 2003.


External links[edit]