First Concert, 29th Season, of the Newport Choral Society.
Relayed from the Central Hall, Newport.
Samson was composed immediately after Messiah, and in about the same length of time as sufficed for that work - three weeks. Some of the words Handel used are not of high poetic value, but a good deal of the libretto is of finer quality, being taken from Milton's Samson Agonistes.
There is a pathetic story of Handel in his old age, at a performance of this Oratorio, weeping as he listened to the air 'Total Eclipse,' in which Samson laments his loss of sight - for Handel himself had then become blind.
The work is divided into three parts.
We find Samson, blinded and made captive by the Philistines, standing before his prison in Gaza. A feast day of the god Dagon is being celebrated, and the Priests of the temple hymn their deity.
Samson's father, Manoah, his friend Micah, and other Israelites come to visit him, and to condole with him. Samson acknowledges his punishment just, but is sure that Dagon, vaunting himself against God, will be overthrown, and in a fine Air, prays the God of Israel to raise the tempest of His wrath. He feels his life is almost ended, and his friends remind him of the joys to be his in another world.
The same scene, and the same moods, prevail, as at the opening of the work. Samson, Micah and their Israelitish friends call on God to have mercy on the fallen hero.
Now Dalila (here, it is to be remembered, figuring as Samson's wife) appears, with a train of Virgins as Chorus, and pretends to be penitent. Samson scorns her, she hotly retorts, and so they part.
The Philistine giant, Harapha, approaches, and boasts how he would have crushed Samson if they had met while yet the Israelite had his sight; but, now, of course, 'honour and arms scorn such a foe.' They sing, in a fine duet, their mutual defiance, .and then Micah proposes that the giant shall call upon Dagon to 'dissolve those magic spells that gave our hero strength.' The Israelites and the Philistines, in mingled but opposing chorus, sing of the might of their respective gods.
Harapha comes to bid Samson to a festival in honour of Dagon, at which he is desired to exhibit his strength. Samson refuses, but Micah counsels him that it would be wise to go. The Israelites pray God to protect their champion, and Samson departs.
Manoah comes to tell the friends of his hopes of obtaining Samson's freedom, and sings the pathetic air, 'How willing my paternal love, The weight to share of filial care... While I have eyes, he wants no light.'
A terrible noise is heard, and the voices of the Philistines, raised in terror. An Israelitish messenger tells the tidings - how Samson has pulled down the temple, himself perishing in the ruins. The Israelites lament their hero's end, and, while a Dead March is played, his body is brought in. The funeral rites are celebrated, and Manoah pronounces the hero's epitaph 'Samson like Samson fell, Both life and death heroic.'
The Oratorio ends with an ascription of praise to God, the Ruler of all things.
Micah (his friend):
Manoah (his father)/Harapah (A Giant of Gath):
Dalila (Samson's wife)/Philistine woman/Israelitish woman:
Priests of Dagou, Chorus of Israelites and Philistines: