Asaf Bartov (ijon) wrote,
Asaf Bartov

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Give an answer, Baal!

Friends, I have heard perfection, and it is in the dialogue between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in Felix Mendelssohn's Elijah. I was listening to an English version, performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Robert Shaw.

Based on the biblical story of Elijah's contest with 450 prophets of Baal, told in 1 Kings 18, this part of the oratory simply shines with dramatic vigor and brilliant composition.

The choir represents the prophets of Baal, and they plead to their god to set alight the fire under the bullock they are offering him, for this is the nature of the contest. After a powerful choral part in which they exhort their god in admiration and confidence to perform the miracle of fire, and the ensuing silence, Elijah ridicules them:
And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
The prophets of Baal resort to self-mutilation "after their manner", with "knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them", in order to make their god heed their call. A brief, painful, almost desperate choral passage. And silence. More mocking by Elijah. The prophets of Baal, bleeding, desperate, and frightened, appeal to their god one last time. A powerful choral passage, with the furious, frustrated demand give an answer, Baal! It ends with unaccompanied tenors singing "give an aaaaanswer..." several times, weaker every time. Silence.

Elijah calls upon his god, and fire is produced, and the assembled laymen who came to watch the spectacle are now assures of the falsehood of the cult of Baal, and of the truth of the cult of Jehovah. Elijah proceeds to order the crowd to seize the prophets of Baal, "let not one of them escape", and he takes them down to a brook and slays them. Four hundred and fifty men.

And all this, O my brothers, I have heard this morning in my car stereo, on my way to work, and it was perfection.

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