Analytical Overview of Handel’s “Empiro, diro, tu sei”

logoGeneral Information

In the aria “Empiro, dirò, tu sei” (from Giulio Cesare), Cesare condemns Ptolemy for his tyranny in beheading Cesare’s military rival.

Instrumentation of This Aria

Tutti violins in unison


Voice (Cesare)

Mood and General Structure of Text

The text consists of two tercets.  The rhyme scheme (in Italian) is AAB.  The mood conveyed by the text is both anger and indignation.

Basic Musical Form

This piece is in da capo aria form (ABA).  The B section is differentiated from the A by a sudden modulation to the relative major key (Eb), within this section there are modulations to different keys than presented in the A theme, and the B theme contains a stopping point for a cadenza (bar 56).

Principal Motives

Descending scale pattern (bar 1)

Melodic sixteenth note pattern (high-low-low-high) (bar 3)

Sudden appearance of a melodic tritone (bar 8)

Relationship Between Voice and Orchestra

The orchestra presents, in the introduction, several important motivic ideas which are later taken up by the voice.  While the voice is singing, the orchestra presents basic accompaniment material to reinforce the harmony.

Harmonic Structure

Introduction          1 – 9                 C minor (i)

“A” Theme              10 – 11             C minor

12 – 19             Eb major (III)

20 – 21             Ab major (VI)

22 – 27             G minor (v)

28 – 42             C minor (i)

“B” Theme               43 – 45             Eb major (III)

46 – 47             F minor (iv)

48 – 50             Bb minor (vii)

51 – 52            C minor (i)

53 – 58            G minor (v)

(repeat of “A” theme)

Text Painting

When the words “Empiro, dirò, tu sei” (“You are a tyrant, I say”) first appear (bar 10), they take up the downward scale motive first present by the orchestra in the introduction.  This seems to give the impression of condemnation, of looking down on Ptolomy.

“Sei tutto crudeltà” (“You are cruelty itself”) is frequently treated melismatically (bars 13-16, other places), which gives it special emphasis.

“Che in sen non ha pieta” (“Whose heart contains no pity”) is stated several times in succession and concludes the “B” section, treated melismatically in the second to last statement.

Overall, Handel skillfully uses the music to emphasize the spirit of this aria.  Cesare’s rage towards Ptolomy is made quite clear.

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