“Total Eclipse” from Handel’s “Samson”

Total eclipse! No sun, no moon!
All dark amidst the blaze of noon!

Total Eclipse, the aria from Handel’s 1743 oratorio, Samson, isn’t directly referencing the kind of awe-inspiring celestial dance many of us will experience today. The words, taken from John Milton’s tragic closet drama, are Samson’s anguished lament at losing his eye sight. (Milton and Handel both went blind. According to some accounts, this aria moved Handel to tears in the final years of his life).

Samson, one of the last judges of Israel, derives supernatural strength from his uncut hair. He divulges the secret of his powers to his Philistine wife, Dalila, who betrays him by shearing his hair off while he is sleeping. Samson is captured by the Philistines, blinded and imprisoned. In Total Eclipse we get a sense of the stinging humiliation of Samson’s fall, and perhaps his feelings of self-betrayal. Stripped of his powers, he is rendered emotionally naked. 

The introduction’s single musical line seems to be groping in never-ending darkness. Then, for Samson’s opening words, even this sparse accompaniment evaporates and we’re left, suddenly, with the ultimate lonely desolation.

Here is tenor Marc LeBroq’s performance:

Handel’s music has a unique ability to turn the darkest tragedy into euphoric triumph. At the end of the final act of Samson, Let the Bright Seraphim summons the celestial angels, seraphim and cherubim with the sound of trumpet calls:

Recordings

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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