Saul 2017/18 25 © Monika Rittershaus


From 1711 onward, George Frideric Handel had dominated musical life in London with his Italian-style operas. From the outset, however, audiences demanded operas in English. By the end of the 1730s Italian operas had fallen entirely out of favour in London, so the composer looked for new ways of captivating his listeners. He began to experiment more extensively with English-language oratorios. In 1739, Saul marked the start of his new career. This work still shows a great affinity with opera, and its instrumentation is remarkably rich and novel: for a more vivid portrayal of the time of King David (1000 BC), Handel scored instruments that were thought at the time to have been used  in David’s day: trombones, extensive percussion and a carillon, a set of bells played by striking a keyboard.

The young David has done a great service to King Saul: he managed to kill Goliath the giant with a precisely slung stone. Saul is initially full of gratitude towards David and wants to give him the hand of Merab, his daughter, in marriage. However, she rejects the union owing to David’s lowly lineage. Her sister Michal, on the other hand, loves David, and he is also attracted to her. Saul gradually realises that his people and his entourage have more respect for David than they do for him and he begins to consider ways of eliminating his rival. David is hard put to it to escape Saul’s jealous assassination attempts. At the same time, he is also looking for a way to marry Michal. When Saul repeatedly fails to kill David he furiously consults the Witch of Endor, but she tells him only that his own end is near. When this really does happen, David becomes king and can marry Michal. The people all praise David.