Christmas with the Master Composers (Part 4) - Comfort Ye... and Ev'ry Valley from Handel's Messiah

in classical-music •  4 months ago 

Hello everyone! This is the fourth post in my Christmas series of analysis. Today, we get a special treat in the first recitative and aria from the Messiah for Tenor: Comfort ye... and Ev'ry Valley. If you have missed any of the previous analyses, they will be linked at the bottom. Otherwise, I think it would be best to get right to the point!


So, in order to get right to the point, I am going to avoid getting to the point :)

First, I will discuss this text. The text is:


"Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to
Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her
Iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness
Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for
Our God."
(from Isaiah 40:1-3)



"Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain." (from Isaiah 40:4)

This text is part of Isaiah's prophecy of salvation. I am quite fond of the text, and I feel it is perfect for the first Recitative and Aria because of it's kind and comforting message, introductory tone, and beautiful sound.



These pieces' forms are not as cut and dry as others which I have analyzed. I would say that both works are more or less through composed with sections loosely defined by either character or key. For instance, there seems to be a coda in the Recitative in which he modulates fairly quickly to A major. But, overall, I'd say the focus is on the text, and not on any particular form.

Motifs and Ideas

Within the recitative, I highlighted the recurring figure of an ascending third in Green. It is quite interesting how Handel worked this in throughout the recitative in different voices within the accompaniment as well as in the tenor part. Within the first two measures, you can already see it occurring in the soprano and (in imitation) in the bass.


Within the aria, I am quite fond of Handel's use of the accompaniment. Often, I find that my own accompaniments are far too inactive. Handel makes the accompaniment (within this aria in particular) an integral part of the piece. The accompaniment's interludes are both necessary and exciting.

This is something which I have observed in Handel, as well as Mozart and Schubert. It is quite amazing how good they are at making the accompaniment important without overcasting the main idea.


I would say that many of the harmonic decisions that Handel makes are pretty straight forward. He has some interesting uses of 7ths which really show how forward thinking he was, but everything is more or less typical.

One harmonic decision which I found quite surprising in the recitative was the shift towards A major at the end of the Recitative. I did not see it coming at all, and I find it quite exciting. I will admit that I do not see an exact purpose for it since the Aria is in E major, but I like the way he gets to A major.


First of all, I will discuss how exciting the Aria is. It really gets your blood moving! As I said, the harmonic decisions are not really that a-typical, and I would say that he has utilized ideas which don't really need too many complex harmonic decisions to function and would in fact be tainted by too many complicated harmonic decisions. Overall, I am quite fond of his modulations between keys.

Here is the video analysis of the tenor recitative and aria from the Messiah "Comfort Ye. . . and Ev'ry Valley":

Previous Analyses

The Nutcracker Suite
Miniature Overture (12/4)
March (12/6)

The Messiah
Overture (12/5)
Comfort Ye. . .Ev'ry Valley (12/7)

Upcoming Analyses

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker Suite (12/8)


Thanks for reading this! I chose doves for the thumbnail of this post because I have always related doves to a sense of hope. When I listen to this recitative and aria, I am filled with a sense of hope and comfort. Please remember that feedback is always very much appreciated! I understand that some decisions I have made may be controversial or downright wrong. Please let me know if anything pops out. Hopefully, I will see you tomorrow!

(Note) In order to encourage meaningful feedback on the platform, I will check comment trails of users who leave superficial comments (ie "Awesome post," or "Upvoted.") and will mute any users who exhibit a pattern of leaving "spammy" comments.

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