Definitions for oratorioˌɔr əˈtɔr iˌoʊ, -ˈtoʊr-, ˌɒr-
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a musical composition for voices and orchestra based on a religious text
A musical composition on a religious theme; similar to opera but with no costume, scenery or acting.
An oratorio is a large musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists. Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias. However, opera is musical theatre, while oratorio is strictly a concert piece—though oratorios are sometimes staged as operas, and operas are sometimes presented in concert form. In an oratorio there is generally little or no interaction between the characters, and no props or elaborate costumes. A particularly important difference is in the typical subject matter of the text. Opera tends to deal with history and mythology, including age-old devices of romance, deception, and murder, whereas the plot of an oratorio often deals with sacred topics, making it appropriate for performance in the church. Protestant composers took their stories from the Bible, while Catholic composers looked to the lives of saints. Oratorios became extremely popular in early 17th-century Italy partly because of the success of opera and the Catholic Church's prohibition of spectacles during Lent. Oratorios became the main choice of music during that period for opera audiences.
The Nuttall Encyclopedia
a musical composition on a sacred theme, dramatic in form and associated with orchestral accompaniments, but without scenic accessories; it derives its name from the oratory of St. Philip Neri at Rome, in which a composition of the kind was first performed, and was a musical development of the miracle plays (q. v.).
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