hasten away

Athalia (Handel)

Athalia (HWV 52) is an oratorio by George Frideric Handel, his third in this genre. The structural and rhetorical achievements in Athalia project a dramatic concept that may be unique in Handel's output. Commissioned in 1733 for the Publick Act in Oxford, a commencement ceremony of the local colleges one of which had offered Handel an honorary doctorate. The story is based on that of the Biblical queen Athaliah.

Oxford was then a center of nationalist and Jacobite sentiment and Athalia was composed in the midst of a controversy about Handel's advocacy of Italian opera and may have been a pragmatic reaction to this: Handel bowed to English musical taste by writing an oratorio, a genre with which he had had two previous successes.

It was first performed on 10 July 1733 at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, conducted by Handel himself.

He may have chosen Jean Racine's Athalie as the basis for his libretto because of Jacobite allusions in its plot. Athalia, as presented in the Bible, was a tyrannical usurper who was finally overthrown, whereupon a hidden prince took his rightful throne - a theme obviously capable of a Jacobite interpretation. Handel uses rhetorical planning and symbols to reinstate many ideas of Racine's that are lost in Humphreys's libretto.

The tonal plan of the oratorio hinges on key associations with rhetorical significance. Handel's musical treatment echoes the original play's division into five parts, the characters' psychological duality and their polarization in pairs, and the acceleration of the dramatic pace towards the end.

The rhetorical and structural coherence of Athalia effects specific interpretive choices for performance. It also reveals a musical and dramatic form that anticipates the operas of Gluck and Mozart. It may represent a particular and persuasive example of the influence of French aesthetics on Handel.

Dramatis personae

  • Athalia, Baalite Queen of Judah and Daughter of Jezebel (soprano)
  • Josabeth, Wife of Joad (soprano)
  • Joas, King of Judah (boy soprano)
  • Joad, High Priest (alto)
  • Mathan, Priest of Baal, formerly a Jewish Priest (tenor)
  • Abner, Captain of the Jewish Forces (bass)
  • Chorus of Young Virgins
  • Chorus of Israelites
  • Chorus of Priests and Levites
  • Chorus of Attendants
  • Chorus of Sidonian Priests


Part Scene Type Voice Text (first lines)
1 Sinfonia
(Allegro, Grave, Allegro)
1 1 Aria Josabeth Blooming virgins, spotless train, tune to transport all your lays! ...
1 1 Chorus Young Virgins The rising world Jehovah crown'd with bright magnificence around! ...
1 1 Chorus Israelites O mortals, if around us here so wond'rous all His works appear, ...
1 1 Aria Josabeth Tyrants would in impious throngs silence His adorers' songs:
but shall Salem's lyre and lute at their proud commands be mute?
1 1 Chorus Israelites Tyrants! Tyrants! Ye in vain conspire! Wake the lute and strike the lyre!
1 1 Recitative Abner When He is in his wrath reveal'd, where will the haughty lie conceal'd?
1 1 Aria Abner When storms the proud to terrors doom, He forms the dark majestic scene,
He rolls the thunder through the gloom, and on the whirlwind rides serene.
1 1 Chorus Israelites Oh Judah, boast his matchless law, pronounc'd with such tremendous awe! ...
1 2 Recitative Joad Your sacred songs awhile forbear, our festival demands your care;
and now no longer let your stay the due solemnities delay.
1 2 Accompagnato Joad O Judah, Judah! Chosen seed! To what distress art thou decreed! ...
1 2 Aria Joad O Lord, whom we adore, shall Judah rise no more? ...
1 2 Chorus Israelites Hear from thy mercy seat the groans thy tribes repeat, the sighs they breathe to thee, the groans, the sighs!
1 3 Aria Athalia What scenes of horror round me rise! I shake, I faint with dire surprise!
Is sleep, that frees the wretch from woe, to Majesty alone a foe?
1 3 Recitative Athalia O Mathan, aid me to control the wild confusion of my soul!
1 3 Recitative Mathan Why shrinks that mighty soul with fear? What cares, what danger can be near?
1 3 Recitative Athalia Ev'n now, as I was sunk in deep repose, my mother's awful form before me rose; ...
1 3 Aria Athalia O Athalia, tremble at thy fate! For Judah's God pursues thee with his hate, ...
1 3 Chorus Attendants and
Sidonian Priests
The gods, who chosen blessings shed on majesty's anointed head, ...
1 3 Recitative Athalia Her form at this began to fade, and seem'd dissolving into shade. ...
1 3 Chorus Attendants and
Sidonian Priests
Cheer her, O Baal, with a soft serene, and in thy votary protect the queen!
1 3 Recitative Athalia Amidst these horrors, that my soul dismay'd, a youth I saw in shining robes array'd, ...
1 3 Recitative Mathan Great queen, be calm! These fears I deem the birth of a delusive dream. ...
1 3 Aria Mathan Gentle airs, melodious strains! Call for raptures out of woe,
lull the regal mourner's pains, sweetly soothe her as you flow.
1 3 Aria Athalia Softest sounds no more can ease me, heav'n a weight of woe decrees me, horrors all my hopes destroy. ...
1 3 Recitative Mathan Swift to the temple let us fly, to know what mansion hides this youthful foe.
1 3 Recitative Abner I'll haste the pontiff to prepare for this black storm of wild despair.
1 3 Chorus Attendants The traitor if you there descry, oh let him by the altar die.
1 4 Recitative Joad My Josabeth! The grateful time appears to bid dejected Judah end her fears.
1 4 Recitative Josabeth Oh tell the people, as I oft have crav'd, how I from death the royal infant sav'd.
1 4 Recitative Abner Priest of the living God! With anxious heart proud Athalia's purpose I impart: ...
1 4 Recitative Josabeth Oh killing shock of unexpected pain! Oh innocence, my tender care in vain! ...
1 4 Aria Josabeth Faithful cares in vain extended, lovely hopes for ever ended, beamy dawn of joy farewell! ...
1 4 Recitative Abner O cease, fair princess, to indulge your woe; no mortal to your son can prove a foe.
1 4 Recitative Joad This grief, oh Josabeth, degrades your soul; can God no longer Judah's foe control? ...
1 4 Aria Joad Gloomy tyrants, we disdain all the terror you intend,
all your fury will be vain, and in low confusion end!
1 4 Chorus Israelites Alleluja!
2 1 Chorus Priests, Levites,
Israelites and Joad
The mighty pow'r in whom we trust, is ever to His promise just;
He makes this sacred day appear, the pledge of a propitious year.
2 1 Aria Joad He bids the circling season shine, recalls the olive and the wine,
with blooming plenty loads the plain, and crowns the fields with golden grain.
2 1 chorus Priests, Levites,
and Israelites
Give glory to His awful name, let ev'ry voice His praise proclaim!
2 1 Aria Josabeth Through the land so lovely blooming, nature all her charms assuming, wakes the soul to cheerful praise. ...
2 1 Recitative Abner Ah! Were this land from proud oppression freed, Judea would be bless'd indeed!
2 1 Recitative Joad Oh Abner, wer't thou certain that the sword had not destroy'd the race by thee deplor'd, ...
2 1 Aria Abner Ah, canst thou but prove me! To vengeance I spring. ...
2 1 Recitative Joad Thou dost the ardour that I wish display; revisit me before the close of day. ...
2 2 Recitative Athalia Confusion to my thoughts! My eyes have view'd my dreadful vision in the place renew'd!
Through all my veins the chilling horrors run. Say, Josabeth, is this fair youth thy son?
2 2 Josabeth Though much he merits my fond love, yet he is not indebted for his birth to me.
2 2 Recitative Athalia Who is thy father? Let his name be known!
2 2 Recitative Josabeth He has no father but kind heav'n alone.
2 2 Recitative Athalia Why so officious does thy zeal appear? I mean the answer from his lips to hear. How art thou call'd?
2 2 Recitative Joas Eliakim
2 2 Recitative Athalia Unfold thy father's name!
2 2 Recitative Joas In me, alas, behold an orphan, cast by providence, and ne'er as yet acquainted who his parents were.
2 2 Recitative Athalia Give me to understand whose tender cares sustain'd and rear'd thee in thy infant years?
2 2 Aria Joas Will God, whose mercies ever flow, expose his children's youth to woe? ...
2 2 Recitative Athalia 'Tis my intention, lovely youth, that you a scene more suited to your worth shall view: ...
2 2 Recitative Joas Shall I behold the God by whom I'm bless'd profan'd by you with rites that I detest?
2 2 Recitative Athalia Princess, in discipline you much excel; whate'er you dictate he remembers well. ...
2 2 Aria Athalia My vengeance awakes me, compassion forsakes me, all softness and mercy away!
My foes with confusion shall find their illusion and tremble before me today!
2 2 Duet Josabeth My spirits fail, I faint, I die!
2 2 Duet (continued) Joas Ah, why?
2 2 Duet (continued) Josabeth The grave shall hide my head!
2 2 Duet (continued) Joas Is hope for ever fled?
2 2 Duet (continued) Josabeth My grief's too great to bear, I faint, I die -
2 2 Duet (continued) Joas Ah, why?
2 2 Duet (continued) Josabeth I faint, I die!
2 2 Duet (continued) Joas Is hope for ever fled?
2 2 Duet (continued) Josabeth The grave shall hide my head!
2 2 Duet (continued) Joas Kind heav'n will defend me -
2 2 Duet (continued) Josabeth Thy ardours affect me -
2 2 Duet (continued) Joas He sure will protect me: Is hope for ever fled? For ever fled?
2 2 Duet (continued) Josabeth Whate'er this tyrant may decree, oh God, I place my trust in thee!
2 2 Aria Joas In Jehovah's awful sight, haughty tyrants are but dust.
Those, who glory in their might, place in vanity their trust.
2 3 Recitative Joad Dear Josabeth, I trembled whilst thy woe did in its first emotions wildly flow; ...
2 3 Duet Joad Cease thy anguish, smile once more, let thy tears no longer flow! ...
2 3 Duet (continued) Josabeth All his mercies I review, gladly, with a grateful heart,
and I trust He will renew blessings he did once impart.
2 3 Duet (continued) Joad and Josabeth Whate'er this tyrant may decree, returning joys we soon shall see.
2 3 Recitative Abner Joad, ere day has ended half his race, again expect me in this sacred place.
2 3 Chorus Young Virgins The clouded scene begins to clear, and joys in gentle trains appear.
2 3 Chorus Priests and Levites When crimes aloud for vengeance call, the guilty will be doomed to fall.
2 3 Chorus Israelites Rejoice, oh Judah, in thy God! The proud alone shall feel His rod,
whilst blessings with a mild decree, His mercy now prepares for thee.
3 1 Aria Joad What sacred horrors shake my breast! Ah! 'Tis the pow'r divine confess'd! ...
3 1 Chorus Virgins, Priests
and Levites
Unfold, great seer, what heav'n imparts, and speak glad tidings to our hearts!
3 1 Accompagnato Joad Let harmony breathe soft around, and aid my raptures with the sound!
3 1 Aria Joad Jerusalem, thou shalt no more a tyrant's guilty reign deplore; ...
3 1 Chorus Virgins, Priests
and Levites
Oh shining mercy!
3 1 Chorus (continued) Joad Heav'n itself will now relieve me!
3 1 Chorus (continued) Virgins, Priests
and Levites
Oh shining mercy!
3 1 Chorus (continued) Joad See, she falls..
3 1 Chorus (continued) Virgins, Priests
and Levites
Gracious pow'r..
3 1 Chorus (continued) Joad ..she bleeds..
3 1 Chorus (continued) Virgins, Priests
and Levites
..gracious pow'r..
3 1 Chorus (continued) Joad ..she dies!
3 1 Chorus (continued) Virgins, Priests
and Levites
..oh shining mercy, gracious pow'r, that aids us in the needful hour!
3 1 Recitative Joad Eliakim!
3 1 Recitative Joas My father!
3 1 Recitative Joad Let me know: Should heav'n on thee a diadem bestow,
what reign of Judah's kings wouldst thou that day choose for the model of thy future sway?
3 1 Recitative Joas Should God such glory for my lot ordain, like righteous David I would wish to reign.
3 1 Recitative Joad Oh, Joas! Oh, my king! Thus low to thee I pay the homage of my bended knee!
3 1 Recitative Joas Is this reality or kind deceit? Ah, can I see my father at my feet?
3 1 Recitative Josabeth Ye sacred bands, who serve the God of truth, Revere your sov'reign in that royal youth!
3 1 Chorus Virgins, Priests
and Levites
With firm united hearts, we all will conquer in his cause, or fall.
3 2 Recitative Mathan Oh princess, I approach thee to declare how much thy welfare is my care.
3 2 Recitative Josabeth What means, proud Mathan, thy intrusion here? Has heav'n no vengeance for thy crimes to fear?
3 2 Recitative Mathan Fair Josabeth, though you insult me so, trust me, in Mathan you behold no foe!
3 2 Aria Josabeth Soothing tyrant, falsely smiling! Virtue's foes I ne'er shall fear; ...
3 3 Recitative Joad Apostate priest! How canst thou dare to violate this house of pray'r?
3 3 Recitative Mathan Joad, I scorn thy proud insulting mien; prepare to answer thy offended queen!
3 4 Recitative Athalia Oh bold seduce, art thou there? Where is the youth, inform me, where?
3 4 Recitative Joad Ye priests, the youth before her bring! Proud woman, there, behold our king!
3 4 Chorus Young Virgins, Priests
and Levites
Around let acclamations ring: Hail, royal youth! Long live the king!
3 4 Aria Joad Reviving Judah shall no more detested images adore; ...
3 4 Chorus Young Virgins, Priests
and Levites
Bless the true church, and save the king!
3 4 Recitative Athalia Oh, treason, treason! Impious scene! Abner, avenge thy injur'd queen!
3 4 Recitative Joad Great chief, behold thy royal Joas there, preserv'd by Josabeth's successful care!
Thy dauntless loyalty of soul I know; thou canst not be to David's race a foe.
3 4 Recitative Abner Does heav'n this blessing then at last accord? Oh royal Joas, oh my honour'd Lord!
3 4 Aria Abner Oppression, no longer I dread thee, thy terrors, proud queen, I despise!
They crimes to confusion have led thee, and Judah triumphant shall rise!
3 4 Recitative Athalia Where am I? Furies, wild despair! Where are my guards, my vassals, where?
Mathan, invoke thy God to shed his vengeance on each rebel's head!
3 4 Recitative Mathan He hears no more! Our hopes are past! The Hebrew's God prevails at last!
Alas, alas! My broken vow! His dreadful hand is on me now!
3 4 Aria Mathan Hark! Hark! Hark! His thunders round me roll, His angry awful frowns I see, ...
3 4 Recitative Joad Yes, proud apostate, thou shalt fall, they crimes aloud for vengeance call!
3 4 Recitative Athalia I see all hopes, all succours fail, and Judah's God will now prevail; ...
3 4 Aria Athalia To darkness eternal and horrors infernal undaunted I'll hasten away.
Oh tyrants, your treason shall in the due season weep blood for this barbarous day!
3 5 Recitative Joad Now, Josabeth, thy fears are o'er!
3 5 Recitative Josabeth Bless'd be His name whom we adore!
3 5 Duet Joad Joys, in gentle trains appearing, Heav'n does to my fair impart;
and, to make them more endearing, I shall share them with thy heart!
3 5 Duet (continued) Josabeth Softest joys would be deceive me, hadst thou they happy part;
oh my dearest Lord, believe me, thou shalt share them with my heart.
3 5 Duet (continued) Joad I shall share them with thy heart!
3 5 Duet (continued) Josabeth Thou shalt share them with my heart!
3 5 Duet (continued) Joad and Josabeth And to make them more endearing I shall/thou shalt share them with thy/my heart!
3 5 Recitative Abner Rejoice, oh Judah, this triumphant day! Let all the goodness of our God display;
whose mercies to the wond'ring world declare; His chosen people are His chosen care!
3 5 Chorus Young Virgins, Priests,
Levites and Israelites
Give the glory to His awful name, let ev'ry voice His praise proclaim!


Score of Athalia (ed. Friedrich Chrysander, Leipzig 1859)

External links


  • Tellez, Carmen Helena, "Musical Form and Dramatic Concept in Handel's Athalia", Doctor of Music, Indiana University, 1989. Dissertation Number: DA9135209(author)

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