A while back in the "Listening Like Maniac" post I promised more on Handel's Messiah. It's concert weekend, so I thought this a good time to write.
"Handel is famous for employing word painting—the musical technique of having the melody mimic the literal meaning of its lyrics—in many of his works." (Wikipedia) The example given in that article is from the tenor aria "Every Valley". Some of the lyrics are "...every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain," where the music follows suit. The mountains have steep and jagged lines the hills are a rounded line, the word "low" comes on a low note, the "crooked" kind of zig-zags between notes and most of "plain" is a more plain note. You can hear this in the You Tube link and see this if you go to the Wikipedia article.
Another example is "All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray". Can you hear the going astray, everyone turning to his own way?
In addition to such distinct word painting the music also often reflects the general text in such things as "His Yoke is Easy and His Burthen is Light" where the music is light and skipping, or the heavier, slow, sad "He was Despised and Rejected".
"The People That Walked in Darkness", which I referred to in my earlier post is also one of these. What happens when you walk in darkness? You may wander about this way and that trying to find your way. Handel has also made the ground quite uneven and dangerous here. However, at the words "...have seen a great light", suddenly the way is smoother and brighter.
So come on out tonight or tomorrow afternoon to see if Handel manages to trip me ...no, no, no, don't watch for that! Just come and enjoy the performance!