: a large piece of music for a group of singers and musicians that is usually about a religious subject
Large-scale musical composition on a sacred subject for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra. The term derives from the oratories, community prayer halls set up by St. Philip Neri in the mid 16th century in a Counter-Reformation attempt to provide locales for religious edification outside the church itself, and the oratorio remained a nonliturgical (and non-Latin) form for moral musical entertainment. The first oratorio, really a religious opera, was written in 1600 by Emilio del Cavaliere, and the oratorio's development closely followed that of opera. Giacomo Carissimi produced an important body of Italian oratorios, and Marc-Antoine Charpentier transferred the oratorio to France in the later 17th century. In Germany the works of Heinrich Schütz anticipate the oratorio-like Passions of Johann Sebastian Bach. The most celebrated oratorio composer was George Frideric Handel; his great English works include the incomparable Messiah (1742). Handel inspired Franz Joseph Haydn's great Creation (1798) and exerted great influence on the 19th-century oratorio, whose composers include Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, and Franz Liszt. Though the oratorio thereafter declined, 20th-century oratorio composers included Edward Elgar, Igor Stravinsky, Arthur Honegger, and Krzysztof Penderecki.
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