Handel’s oratorio Samson tells of the last days of the great Israelite warrior, in a dramatic story of his journey from darkness to heavenly light. Opening with Samson in chains, having lost his strength and been blinded by the Philistines, it closes with one of Handel’s most famous arias, ‘Let the bright Seraphim in burning row / their loud, uplifted angel-trumpets blow’. Composed within a few weeks of Handel’s Messiah and based on a text by John Milton, it became one of Handel’s most successful and popular oratorios.
“If music has the power to direct our entire existence towards nobleness, this music is great. Bach has achieved this.” Is there a piece in the entire Western musical canon that so fully embodies this sentiment? The B Minor Mass began its life as a job application, but was later assembled towards the end of Bach’s life as a statement of faith: in God, of course, but just as much in music: to offer healing, unity and promise. With its exhaustive compendium of musical styles (and his twin trademarks of mathematical genius and dancing feet) and complete mastery of composition, both musical and architectural, it speaks for the whole world. In directing us towards nobleness, Bach shows us – people of all faiths and of none – the oneness of humankind with the universe, and the responsibility of human life to do good and to seek beauty.