11. Germany, early Classical and Classical styles.
German oratorios of the first half of the 18th century occasionally exhibit early Classical traits, but these did not predominate until about the middle of the century. In both its libretto and music the German oratorio in the second half of the 18th century, as in earlier times, included a greater variety of types and structures than the Italian oratorio of the same period. The librettos of German oratorios range between two extremes: the predominantly dramatic type (biblical in Protestant Germany; biblical or hagiographical in Roman Catholic areas) and the predominantly contemplative type. (The increasing use of the term ‘oratorio’ for musical settings of works with predominantly contemplative texts increased the confusion of the meanings of the terms ‘Oratorium’ and ‘Kantate’ in German usage of the late 18th century, and these terms were sometimes used synonymously.) German oratorios are divided into as many as five sections, but those with one or two are the most common. The chorus and the chorale are as prominent in German oratorios of this period as in those of the late Baroque period. The German oratorio tends to exhibit a freer intermingling of recitative, arioso and aria styles and a greater emphasis on accompanied recitative than does the Italian oratorio of the same period. Arias in da capo form and those emphasizing vocal display are less prominent than in Italian oratorios, while simple arias, often folklike in quality and reminiscent of Singspiel, are more common. The Lutheran oratorio continued in this period to function in a liturgical context, as a substitute for the cantata, and it also became increasingly popular in public concert life. Telemann performed oratorios in his public concerts at Frankfurt and Hamburg, as did his successor at Hamburg, C.P.E. Bach. At Lübeck the Abendmusiken continued to offer oratorios, and from 1772 the concerts of the Tonkünstler-Societät in Vienna included oratorios in German as well as in Italian.
German oratorios with predominantly dramatic librettos are within the mainstream of oratorio development in general, and they tend to be closer to the Italian oratorio of the period in musical treatment, as well as in text, than are those with contemplative texts. Among the oratorios with dramatic librettos written for Hamburg during this period are Telemann's Der Tag des Gerichts (1762; libretto by C.W. Alers) and C.P.E. Bach's Israeliten in der Wüste (1769; published in 1775; libretto by D. Schiebeler). An extremely prolific composer of oratorios of this type was J.H. Rolle, music director of the city of Magdeburg and one of the best-known oratorio composers in his time; of his approximately 25 oratorios, two are particularly noteworthy for their flexible musical forms in the service of dramatic continuity: Lazarus, oder Die Feier der Auferstehung (Leipzig, 1779) and Thirza und ihre Söhne (Leipzig, 1781). Numerous dramatic oratorios were composed for the Abendmusiken at Lübeck, including A.C. Kunzen's Judith (1759) and Absalon (1761) and J.W.C. von Königslöw's Joseph (1784) and Esther (1787). German oratorios composed for the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg around the middle of the century were strongly influenced, in both their texts and music, by the Italian oratorios performed in Vienna and at other Roman Catholic courts. J.E. Eberlin's Augustinus, for example, is a setting of a German translation of an Italian libretto, La conversione di Sant'Augustino, first set by Hasse; a particularly noteworthy dramatic oratorio by Eberlin is the Passion oratorio in one section Der blutschwitzende Jesus.
The strongest influence on oratorio texts that are predominantly contemplative was the poetry of Klopstock, particularly his Messias. Librettos showing Klopstock’s influence are those in empfindsamer Stil, which emphasized the lyrical and sentimental expression of feelings evoked by religious events and experiences, as well as by scenes in nature. Many such librettos are purely contemplative, without dialogue; for these the term ‘cantata’ would seem more appropriate than ‘oratorio’, although, as pointed out above, the terms were sometimes used synonymously in 18th-century Germany. Some librettos that include narrative or dramatic elements show their affinity to the empfindsamer Stil in their emphasis on the emotional reflections of the narrator or individual characters. The central theme of many contemplative oratorios is the Messiah, particularly the events of Christmas, the Passion and Ascension. Most important among the librettists are K.W. Ramler, J.F.W. Zachariä and Herder, and the most famous libretto is Ramler's Der Tod Jesu, a purely contemplative text, without dialogue, in one section only. C.H. Graun's setting of Der Tod Jesu (1755), one of the best-known German oratorios in its period, was performed almost annually in Berlin on Good Friday until the late 19th century. Others who set this text were Telemann, G.A. Kreusser and J.C.F. Bach. Ramler's Christmas oratorio, Die Hirten bei der Krippe zu Bethlehem, was set by J.F. Agricola, Telemann, C.A.F. Westenholz, D.G. Türk, J.F. Reichardt, J.C.F. Rellstab and J.L. Eybler; among those who set Ramler's Ascension oratorio, Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu, are Agricola, Telemann, J.G. Krebs, G.J. Vogler, C.P.E. Bach and C.F. Zelter. Zachariä’s Die Tageszeiten, modelled on James Thomson's The Seasons (later used by Haydn), is a poem of religious reflections on nature, best known in its setting by Telemann. Herder's librettos Die Kindheit Jesu and Die Auferweckung des Lazarus were both set by J.C.F. Bach. Lyrical, sentimental texts, particularly for Passion oratorios, continued to be popular in early 19th-century Germany; F.X. Huber's text for Beethoven's Christus am Oelberge (1803) clearly reveals the influence of such texts, even though the work has a strong dramatic element in the dialogue.
The most significant German oratorios of the late Classical period are Haydn’s Die Schöpfung (‘The Creation’, completed in 1798) and Die Jahreszeiten (‘The Seasons’, completed in 1801), two of the finest compositions of his latest period. The Creation is based on a text that Haydn took with him from his second London visit. Originally compiled by Lidley (or Linley) from Milton's Paradise Lost, the text was reworked in German for Haydn by van Swieten. Divided into three sections, the libretto is essentially narrative and contemplative; although it includes parts for three individuals, the Archangels Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel, they function as narrators rather than as actual characters in a drama. Two others, Adam and Eve, enter in the third section with essentially lyrical lines. The music of The Creation clearly reflects Haydn's acquaintance with Handel's music, and its pictorialism is sometimes comparable with that of Israel in Egypt; yet the naive simplicity in the music of The Creation distinguishes it from Handel's more rhetorical approach and is among the work's most attractive features. The formal structures are remarkably varied in this oratorio, the free mixtures of solo, soli and choral passages being of special interest; the harmonic freedom of the opening orchestral Representation of Chaos is remarkable for its anticipation of the harmonic practices of the 19th century. The Seasons, likewise a setting of a van Swieten reworking of an English text, by James Thomson, is less like an oratorio than The Creation. The Seasons is in four sections and is mainly a description of the four seasons; its text is not primarily religious and thus is not within the mainstream of oratorio history. It includes three rural characters, Simon, Hanne and Lucas, and a chorus. The music is often simple, reflecting at times the popular style of Singspiel. During the 19th century both The Creation and The Seasons became extremely popular as concert pieces on the Continent, in England and in North America.