No sun, no moon
All dark amidst the blaze of noon
So begins Handel’s aria Total Eclipse in the oratorio Samson. Handel wrote Samson in 1741-1742 after hearing a reading of Milton’s poem Samson Agonistes. In this case, the darkness is caused not by an actual eclipse, but by blindness. Milton, himself blind, tells the biblical story of the strongman Samson, who was blinded after the hair which gave him his superhuman strength was cut off and he was captured by enemies. Handel’s vision was beginning to fail by this time, and it appears he was deeply affected by the poem; at the gathering, a guest
read through the whole poem of Sampson Agonistes and whenever he rested to take breath Mr. Handel (who was highly pleas’d with the Piece) played I really think better than ever, and his Harmony was perfectly adapted to the Sublimity of the Poem1
Samson was one of the first oratorios to showcase a tenor in the leading role.2 And Handel places immense trust in his tenor in the aria Total Eclipse, as he at times sings unaccompanied by the orchestra. I hope you will enjoy this beautiful, dramatic aria, Total Eclipse, performed by Mark Padmore.
Handel himself may have experienced an actual total solar eclipse. On May 3, 1715 a total eclipse was seen from Cornwall to London (three and a half minutes of totality in London).3
On August 21, 2017 many people in the US will be able to experience a total eclipse for themselves. The path of the eclipse will cross the entire United States, causing it to be all dark amidst the blaze of noon. For more information, see these websites.
Image attribution: Solar eclipse 22 July 2009 taken by Lutfar Rahman Nirjhar from Bangladesh [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASolar_eclipse_22_July_2009_taken_by_Lutfar_Rahman_Nirjhar_from_Bangladesh.jpg