Which Type of Sacred Music Did Handel Write Following the Decline of Opera?

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


There are many different types of sacred music, andHandel wrote several pieces following the decline of opera. He wrote oratorios, motets, and anthems, among other pieces. Each type of sacred music has its own purpose and style, and Handel was a master at writing all of them.

The Different Types of Sacred Music

Among the various types of sacred music, oratorio became increasingly popular in the early eighteenth century. An oratorio is a musical composition for voices and orchestra, usually on a sacred or biblical subject. Handel wrote a number of oratorios, including Theodora and Jephtha.


Oratorio is a large musical composition for chorus, orchestra, and soloists. It is similar to an opera in that it is dramatic and has different characters, but it is performed without costumes or staging. Oratorios are often based on religious stories, and they are often performed in churches or other sacred spaces. Handel’s Messiah is one of the most famous examples of an oratorio.


An anthem is a song or hymn of praise or gladness, usually for use in a religious service. The word comes from the Greek anthemion, meaning “a flower.”

There are many types of anthems, ranging from simple songs of thanksgiving to complex works for multiple voices and instruments. Some anthems are also written for special occasions, such as Easter or Christmas.

One of the most famous anthems is George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.” This work was originally written for the Easter season but has since become popular year-round. “Messiah” is a massive work, with over three hours of music composed for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra.


A motet is a musical composition, usually for voices,based on a religious text. The motet began as part of the Ars Antiqua period of medieval music, and developed into one of the most important and influential genres of Renaissance music. The motet was one of the most important forms of Renaissance sacred music, with a golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The golden age of the motet began in the 15th century, with composers such as Guillaume Dufay and Johannes Ockeghem setting texts in Latin, French and Netherlandish. The first great composer of Italian motets was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who wrote over 100 motets, many of them on devotional texts such as the “Ave Maria” or the “Laudate Dominum”. In the 16th century, the motet reached its peak with composers such as Giovanni Gabrieli, Orlando di Lasso and Giaches de Wert writing masterpieces for multiple choirs.

The decline of opera in the 17th century led to a decline in sacred music as well, but there was still a strong tradition of motet composition in Germany and England. George Frideric Handel wrote some beautiful motets following the decline of opera, such as his “O Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?” (1749) and “He That Dwelleth in Heaven” (1752).

The Decline of Opera

It is a little-known fact that George Frideric Handel, one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, wrote more sacred music than any other type of music following the decline of opera. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons for the decline of opera and how it impacted Handel’s musical composition.

The Reasons for the Decline

Opera, a staged drama set to music in its most basic definition, began in the late 16th century and flowered during the 17th. It reached its zenith in the work of three great composers living and working in northern Italy—Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), Giulio Caccini (1551–1618), and Alessandro Stradella (ca. 1639–1682). But by the early 18th century, the form had begun to lose its popularity, a development that culminated in the middle of that century with what has come to be known as the Querelle des Bouffons (“ quarrel of the comedians”), a debate between those who championed French comic opera and those who held that Italian opera was supreme. France won the argument, but at a cost: Italian opera never recovered its former supremacy, and French opera became the rage throughout Europe for much of that century.

Today we think of opera primarily as a 19th-century phenomenon, but in fact it enjoyed something of a revival in the last decades of the 18th century. This was largely owing to two factors. The first was German writer Jakob Lenz’s essay “Über die Müdigkeit im theater” (“On Weariness in the Theater”), published in 1774, which argued persuasively that opera failed because it took itself too seriously; it needed more comic relief. The other factor was Christoph Willibald Gluck’s (1714–87) reformist efforts to reduce what he considered excessive ornamentation and “theatricality” in opera. These two things—a turning away from seriousness and an emphasis on simplicity—characterized much of late-18th-century music, including sacred music.

The Impact on Handel

The decline of opera had a profound impact on George Frideric Handel. A German-born composer who spent most of his career in England, Handel was one of the most celebrated opera composers of his day. However, by the early 1700s, public interest in opera was waning, andHandel found himself increasingly unable to get his operas produced. This led him to turn his attention to other genres of sacred music, such as oratorios and cantatas. While these genres were not as commercially successful as opera, they did allow Handel to continue expressing his creative Genius.

Handel’s Post-Opera Sacred Music

As opera increasingly fell out of fashion in the early eighteenth century, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) devoted himself more and more to writing sacred music. This shift in focus led to some of Handel’s most well-known works, such as the oratorio Messiah. In this article, we’ll explore the type of sacred music Handel wrote following the decline of opera.

The Types of Sacred Music Handel Wrote

Handel is best known for his operas, but he also wrote sacred music throughout his career. After the decline of opera in the early 18th century, Handel turned his attention to sacred music and composed some of his greatest works in this genre.

There are three main types of sacred music that Handel wrote: oratorios, anthems, and motets.

Oratorios are large-scale works that tell a religious story through recitatives (spoken dialogue) and arias (songs). Handel’s most famous oratorio is Messiah, which tells the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Anthems are shorter works that are typically sung by a choir without soloists. They are often used in church services and celebrations. Handel’s anthem “Zadok the Priest” is one of the most famous pieces of English sacred music.

Motets are shorter pieces that focus on a religious text or theme. They are usually sung by a solo singer or small group of singers without accompaniment. Handel’s motet “Sing Unto God” is a setting of Psalm 47.

The Reasons for Handel’s Choice

There are several reasons why Handel may have chosen to write sacred music following the decline of opera. First, as Handel was a devout Christian, it is likely that he felt a calling to write music for the church. Additionally, sacred music was still popular during this time period, and so Handel would have been able to reach a large audience with his composition. Finally, composing sacred music allowed Handel to experiment with new genres andforms, which may have been appealing to him after working primarily in opera.


In conclusion, it is evident that Handel wrote a variety of sacred music following the decline of opera. He composed oratorios, anthems, motets, and psalms, among other pieces. While some of his sacred music was inspired by specific events or people in his life, much of it was likely written simply to satisfy the demand for religious music during this period. Whatever the case may be, Handel’s sacred works are some of the most beautiful and moving pieces of music ever composed, and they continue to bring joy and solace to listeners today.

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