Handel’s oratorio Joshua tells of the Biblical hero’s battles and victories – but Nicholas McGegan says that’s only part of the story. It was also reinforcing King George’s hold on the crown after ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ tried to attack Britain and reclaim the throne for the Catholic Stuart line. Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale will perform the work tonight through Sunday in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Berkeley, and Lafayette.
There’s more information about the concerts at the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra website.
“There are two stories going on, one is ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho…’ and a couple of other battles, and it’s generally about how heroic Joshua is,” McGegan explains. “That’s story number one, story number two is the reason, as it were, why it was written, which has nothing to do with the Old Testament at all. It has to do with Bonnie Prince Charlie, who was the grandson of the last Stuart king of England, a Roman Catholic, who invaded the UK from France in 1745, and got as far as within about a hundred miles of London, then turned round and went back to Scotland.” He was defeated soundly a year later, but this threat to power was fresh in mind when Handel wrote the oratorio in 1747. “And that’s really what it’s all about. It’s about King George, Protestantism, which is then equated with liberty… This is one of three oratorios that were designed to jack up the British government, the German Hanoverian monarchy, and Protestantism in general. It’s a very nationalistic kind of work, jingoistic, if you like. Quite deliberately, around this time the aristocrats who were supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie were publicly executed at the tower of London.” With soloists Thomas Cooley, Daniel Taylor, William Berger, Yulia Van Doren, and Gabrielle Haigh, the ensemble will also include horns, flutes, and timpani. “It gives them all a really good workout. It’s great fun to play, has a killer cast, it’s a good sing for our wonderful chorale.”