Part two, without doubt the emotional core of the work, opens with a sequence of movements which tell of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, the scourging, and crucifixion. This is known rhetorically as a ‘hypotyposis’, where the action is represented in a progression of vivid sound pictures. This opening chorus, short on text, begins in the minor tonality with jagged double-dotted notes pervading the melody in all parts – reminiscent of the opening overture. The choral parts are highly imitative. Intent is paid to the word ‘behold’ at the start of each phrase in so far that the two syllables are an octave apart, the second being higher – a call for attention. The first part of the text is treated polyphonically and the second part homophonically.



John I, v 29

Behold the Lamb of God, that [which] taketh away the sin of the world.


Surprisingly, Handel chooses a major tonality for this da capo aria, and, after hesitant and tentative writing for the strings, the soloist enters. The music of the A section is full of longing, regret and torment. The B section, in which the second sentence of text is set, has a complete change of mood however, and the music moves to the minor key and becomes urgent, pushing forward with resolve and determination, driven by a relentless dotted ostinato rhythm and a regular pulsating bass part. After this the A section is repeated. Again, the rhetorical device of ‘apocope’ is used here – with the music exhibiting a stop/start style.


Aria   Counter Tenor

Isaiah LIII, v 3

Isaiah L, v 6

He was [is] despised and rejected, rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He [I] gave his [my] back to the smiters and his [my] cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; he [I] hid not his [my] face from shame and spitting.


The opening of this angry chorus is also driven along by a persistent, staccato, dotted ostinato rhythm in the strings, which accompanies outbursts of indignation from the chorus. The movement is in a brief ternary form and the middle clause of the text is more reflective and mellow, and accompanied by sustained notes, before the dotted rhythm reappears for the final section of text. In each section the choral writing is entirely homophonic suggesting a unanimity of sentiment from the people.



Isaiah LIII, vv 4-5

Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; [but] he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him.


A second short chorus follows – this one fugal and ‘alla breve’˚. The minor tonality facilitates an awkward and jagged melodic shape to the subject. The sopranos begin, the other entries then cascading downwards through the vocal parts in turn. The texture, once built up to the full four parts, remains fairly dense until the end. The musical material consists entirely of two motifs, the subject and the countersubject, repeated across the pitch spectrum and vocal range and used to generate all of the melody and harmony in the movement with no sign of development. The instrumental parts double the vocal parts.



Isaiah LIII, v 5

And with his stripes we are healed.


The music for this third consecutive chorus, which follows without a break, is much more substantial. Handel makes full use of the biblical order of the words, with the word ‘sheep’ falling in the middle of the sentence, and divides this line of text into two short phrases, set to two rapidly alternating musical ideas for the first and second clauses of the line, plus new material for a coda for the second full line of text. The music is boisterous and lively, mixing short bursts of homophony with polyphony. The entire movement is accompanied by a bass part of regular continuous running quavers. Creative word painting exists in the first musical idea with the words ‘have gone astray’ being set to pairs of vocal parts, which move in exaggerated contrary motion˚, either simultaneously or in a call and response manner. More word painting can be heard in the second musical idea, on the word ‘turned’, where the melismatic vocal parts turn around on themselves, randomly changing direction numerous times in each phrase, as if spinning out of control. The second line of text is reserved for a slow, solemn coda to the movement, where earlier light-hearted musical material is abandoned, and a new, much more serious, motif is introduced. The music for the first line of text is also borrowed from the same secular Italian Duetto di Camera as we heard in the chorus ‘For Unto Us a Child is Born’ in Part 1. Here the music is taken from the final movement of that work ‘So per prova i vostri inganni’ (‘I know to prove your tricks’).



Isaiah LIII, v 6

All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Aberdeen Bach Choir
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