Joshua (Handel)

Joshua (HWV 64) is an oratorio by George Frideric Handel. It was composed in a month, between 19 July 1747 and 19 August 1747, six months before the beginning of the oratorio season, and is Handel's fourth oratorio based on a libretto by Thomas Morell.[1] The oratorio premiered on 9 March 1748 at the Covent Garden Theatre, London. Joshua is based on the Biblical story of Joshua as the leader of the ancient Israelites. The story follows the Israelites from their passage over the Jordan River into Caanan and through the Battle of Jericho. The work also includes a love story elaborated from a few hints in the Biblical narrative between Caleb's daughter Achsah and Othniel, a young soldier.[2]

Joshua was the fourth oratorio Handel had written within the span of twenty months.[3] Following the Jacobite rising of 1745 in England, Handel produced a series of English oratorios based on military themes: Occasional Oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus, Alexander Balus, Joshua, and Solomon. The military conquests the Israelites achieve in the oratorio were seen as parallels to the victory of the Hanoverian regime in crushing the Jacobite rebellion.[2] Joshua was one of his shortest oratorios, containing no genuine overture, only a brief orchestral movement simply titled, "Introduction." Joshua also included at least five pieces borrowed from other Handel compositions. Part one was completed on 30 July 1747, Part two on 8 August and Part three on 19 August.[4]

Handel's second-most-famous chorus, "See the Conq'ring Hero Comes" was first penned for Joshua. It was an immensely popular number and Handel soon added it to Judas Maccabaeus, which had premiered the season before. The chorus is more often thought of in connection with Judas because of its relatively greater fame. When a friend said to Handel that in his opinion the composer had written better things than "See the Conq'ring Hero Comes", Handel replied "You will live to see it a greater favourite with the people than my other fine things."[2]

Dramatis personaeEdit

A picture of the theatre at Covent Garden where Joshua was first performed
Roles, voice types, and premiere cast
Role Voice type Premiere cast, 9 March 1748
Joshua, Leader of the Israelites tenor Thomas Lowe
Othniel, a young warrior, promised to Achsah alto Caterina Galli
Caleb bass Thomas Reinhold
Achsah, Daughter of Caleb soprano Signora Casarini
Angel tenor unknown
Chorus of Israelites, Chorus of the defeated Israelites, Chorus of the Tribe of Judah,Chorus of Youths,Chorus of Virgins[5]


The work is scored for strings, two oboes, flute, two trumpets, two horns, timpani, and continuo.[6]

Plot summaryEdit

Part OneEdit

Part One- The Children of Israel celebrate the end of their journey over the Jordan River and into the land of Canaan, praising God for his blessings and Joshua for his leadership. An angel appears to Joshua and appoints him to lead an army against Jericho. Joshua prepares his soldiers for the attack. Othniel, one of Joshua's warriors, is betrothed to Achsah and readies himself to part from his love and go into battle with Joshua.

Part TwoEdit

Joshua and his troops destroying the walls of Jericho,English 5th century

Joshua and his army destroy the mighty city of Jericho and then commemorate the Feast of the Passover. The army gets word of the defeat of Israel at Ai and Joshua gathers his men to renew their attacks. Othniel calls upon Achsah, but Caleb, her father, dismisses him, telling him to go join the war in the defense of Israel's allies. Miraculously, the sun and moon stay their courses, allowing the Israelites to continue fighting until they arise victorious.

Part ThreeEdit

With the fighting over, Joshua is again lauded as a great leader. He then gives Caleb the land which had been promised to him by Moses. Caleb pledges his daughter's hand to whoever can conquer the city of Debir. Othniel rises to the occasion and asks God to guide him to success. He returns triumphant and Achsah praises God protecting her beloved. The people raise their thanksgivings to God for their prosperity and deliverance.[7]

Musical featuresEdit

The air for Achsah in the first act "Hark, 'tis the linnet and the thrush!" contains naturalistic tone painting effects for the birdsong referred to in the text, with a solo violin depicting the linnet and a flute the thrush. Martial effects on trumpets and drums illustrate the battle sequences. The famous chorus "See the Conq'ring Hero Comes" is heard first as a chorus of youths with horns in the orchestra, then a chorus of virgins with flutes, and finally by full chorus with drums. The air in the last act for Achsah "Oh, had I Jubal's lyre", a short expression of joy with virtuoso writing for the soprano, is often heard and recorded outside the context of the full work.[2]

Musical numbersEdit

Part OneEdit

  • Introduction (Orchestra)
  • Ye sons of Israel (Chorus)
  • Behold, my friends (Tenor, Bass recitative)
  • Oh first in wisdom (Bass aria)
  • Matrons and Virgins (Soprano recitative)
  • Oh who can tell (Soprano aria)
  • Caleb, attend to all I now prescribe (Tenor recitative)
  • To long posterity (Tenor solo with Chorus)
  • So long the memory (Tenor recitative)
  • While Kedron's brook (Tenor aria)
  • But who is He (Alto recitative)
  • Awful pleasing being, say (Alto aria)
  • Joshua, I come commission'd (Tenor, Soprano recitative)
  • Leader of Israel (Tenor, Soprano recitative)
  • To give command (Tenor recitative)
  • Haste, Israel, haste (Tenor aria)
  • The Lord commands (Chorus)
  • In these blest scenes (Soprano, Alto recitative)
  • 'Tis Achsah's voice (Soprano, Alto recitative)
  • Hail, lovely virgin (Soprano, Alto aria)
  • Hark, hark! 'Tis the linnet (Soprano)
  • Oh Achsah, form'd for ev'ry chaste delight (Alto recitative)
  • Our limpid streams (Soprano, Alto duet)
  • The trumpet calls (Alto recitative)
  • May all the host of heaven (Chorus)

Part TwoEdit

  • 'Tis well (Tenor recitative)
  • March (Orchestra)
  • Glory to God (Tenor solo and Chorus)
  • The walls are levell'd (Bass recitative)
  • See the raging flames arise (Bass aria)
  • To vanity and earthly pride (Soprano aria)
  • Let all the seed of Abrah'm (Tenor recitative)
  • Almighty ruler of the skies (Tenor solo and Chorus)
  • Joshua, the men (Bass recitative)
  • How soon our tow'ring hopes are cross'd (Chorus)
  • Whence this dejection (Tenor recitative)
  • With redoubled rage return (Tenor aria)
  • We with redoubled rage (Chorus)
  • Now give the army breath (Alto recitative)
  • Heroes, when with glory burning (Alto aria)
  • Indulgent heaven hath heard (Soprano recitative)
  • As chears the sun (Soprano aria)
  • Sure I'm deceived (Bass, Alto recitative)
  • Nations, who in future story (Alto aria)
  • Brethren and friends (Tenor recitative)
  • Sinfonia (Orchestra)
  • Thus far our cause (Bass recitative)
  • Trumpet flourish (Orchestra)
  • Oh! thou bright orb (Tenor solo and Chorus)

Part ThreeEdit

  • Hail! Mighty Joshua (Chorus)
  • Happy, oh, thrice happy we (Soprano aria)
  • Caleb, for holy Eleazer send (Tenor, Bass recitative)
  • Shall I in Mamre's fertile plain (Bass aria)
  • For all these mercies we will sing (Chorus)
  • Oh Caleb, fear'd by foes (Alto, Bass recitative)
  • Place danger around me (Alto aria)
  • Father of mercy (Chorus)
  • In bloom of youth (Tenor recitative)
  • See the conqu'ring hero comes (Trio SSA)
  • See the godlike youth advance (Duet SA)
  • See the conqu'ring hero comes (Chorus)
  • Welcome, my son (Bass, Alto, Soprano recitative)
  • Oh, had I Jubal's lyre (Soprano aria)
  • While life shall last (Alto recitative)
  • Oh peerless maid (Soprano, Alto duet)
  • While lawless tyrants (Bass recitative)
  • The great Jehovah (Chorus)[7]

Notable PerformancesEdit

The first revival of Joshua occurred in 1752. Before the performance Handel cut the first aria entitled "O first in wisdom." He also expanded the overture by adding the fugue and courante from Solomon. For another performance in 1754, Handel again cut the first aria, but then added five more pieces: four arias and one recitative. Joshua was performed in Salisbury in 1754. It was performed again in 1756 during a three-day Handel festival and in London in 1755 and 1759. Other noteworthy performances include:



  1. ^ a b Winton, Dean. "Joshua." Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques. London: Oxford UP, 1966. N. pag. Print.
  2. ^ a b c d Lamott, Bruce. "Handel's Joshua". Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  3. ^ Dean, Winton (1966). Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques. UNCSA Music Library: Oxford University Press. p. 489.
  4. ^ Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques. London: Oxford UP, 1966. N. pag. Print.
  5. ^ "G. F. Handel's Compositions". The Handel Institute. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  6. ^ IMSLP Joshua Full Score "Archived copy" (PDF). Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  7. ^ a b Joshua Complete Score. Kamlus Edition. University of North Carolina School of the Arts Music Library

11. Joshua HWV 64 Vocal Score; Edition Peters Edited by Andreas Schenck; CF Peters, Frankfurt

External linksEdit