"Judas Maccabaeus," the most popular of Handel's oratorios next to the "Messiah," celebrates a people's heroic resistance to tyranny.
Handel chose as his subject the story of the Jewish military hero who won religious freedom for his people through a crushing defeat of the Syrians.
The holiday of Hanukkah, beginning Dec. 26, commemorates a miracle that occurred when Judas re-consecrated the temple of Jerusalem in December of 165 BC.
As the story goes in Jewish lore, the temple had been destroyed by the enemy, and when the high priest went to perform one of the rituals--lighting a candelabra with sanctified oil--he found that there was only one vessel unbroken with enough oil to last one day. It lasted eight.
This miracle is commemorated by the kindling of lights in an eight-branched candelabrum called a menorah over the eight-day holiday period.
Performances of Handel's inspiring oratorio have also become part of the celebrations of the Hanukkah season.
Three presentations are scheduled locally beginning tonight:
--Alan Parker will conduct the Haydn Orchestra in selections from the oratorio at 7:30 at the Church of Religious Science, 500 Marina Drive in Seal Beach.
The concert is free and will also feature one of Alessandro Scarlatti's "Christmas" cantatas and chamber music by Mozart. For further information, call (213) 598-3325.
--On Sunday, the complete oratorio will be performed twice, at 3 p.m. at Temple Beth David of Orange County, 6100 Hefley St. in Westminster, (714) 892-6623, and at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Bat Yahm, 1011 Camelback St., Newport Beach, (714) 644-1999.
As was the case with the "Messiah," Handel composed "Judas Maccabaeus" in what seems an incredibly short time--the two months of July and August in 1746. And as with the "Messiah," he tinkered with the work for years afterward.
The famous chorus "See the Conquering Hero Comes," for instance, which has become one of Handel's best-known choruses, was added later. The composer took the piece from the oratorio "Joshua," which he wrote in 1748.
Handel utilized a text derived by the Rev. Thomas Morell from the first book of the Maccabees and the 12th book of Josephus' "Antiquities of the Jews."
The work opens with a great chorus of lamentation--"Mourn Ye Afflicted Children"--and continues with the Israelites' expressions of their willingness to rise up and follow the hero Judas Maccabaeus, who will liberate them.
Battle songs such as Judas' rousing "Sound an Alarm" and choruses of victory follow, with expressions of thanks to God.
The work ends with a mighty "Hallelujah" chorus.
Other Hanukkah-related events in Orange County will take place as follows:
--Temple Beth David will hold a Hanukkah Carnival at 11 a.m. on Sunday before the performance of "Judas Maccabaeus." For information, call (714) 892-6623.
--The Jewish Community Center of Laguna Beach will hold several events:
- A Hanukkah party featuring Russian violinist Sam Burlakovsky at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 21. (Reservations must be made no later than Friday.)
- A potluck dinner and candlelighting ceremony at 4:30 p.m on Dec. 26, the first day of Hanukkah.
- Another potluck dinner and candlelighting ceremony, co-sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education and the American Jewish Congress, at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 28.
The center is at 298 Broadway in Laguna Beach. (714) 833-1017.
--Temple Beth David will celebrate the beginning of Hanukkah with a candlelighting service at 8 p.m. on Dec. 26. There will be a potluck dinner at 6:30.