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[awr-uh-tawr-ee-oh, -tohr-, or-] /ˌɔr əˈtɔr iˌoʊ, -ˈtoʊr-, ˌɒr-/
noun, plural oratorios.
an extended musical composition with a text more or less dramatic in character and usually based upon a religious theme, for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra, and performed without action, costume, or scenery.
Origin of oratorio
1625-35; < Italian: small chapel < Late Latin ōrātōrium oratory2; so named from the musical services in the church of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Rome Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for oratorio
Historical Examples
  • You can't gain any more glory in your present field; you stand at the head of concert and oratorio singers in America.

    The Dominant Strain Anna Chapin Ray
  • You talk of a planned seduction as if it were part of an oratorio.

    A Black Adonis Linn Boyd Porter
  • The solo parts in the oratorio are always short and of a reflective character.

    The Standard Oratorios George P. Upton
  • Needless to say, it was "not equal to Mr. Handel's oratorio of Esther or Deborah."

    Handel Edward J. Dent
  • He was not allowed to put the title of the oratorio on the bills.

    Handel Romain Rolland
  • My part did not come until late in the second part of the oratorio.

    The First Violin Jessie Fothergill
  • Burney assigns to it the credit of being "the first sacred drama or oratorio in which recitative was used."

    The Standard Oratorios George P. Upton
  • While Handel was writing in England, the oratorio languished in Germany.

    The Standard Oratorios George P. Upton
  • The Christmas services, the Christmas oratorio, brought her the usual serene joy and comfort.

    Julia Ward Howe Laura E. Richards
  • The characterization of the oratorio, however, is thoroughly pertinent and complete.

    The Standard Oratorios George P. Upton
British Dictionary definitions for oratorio


noun (pl) -rios
a dramatic but unstaged musical composition for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, based on a religious theme
Word Origin
C18: from Italian, literally: oratory², referring to the Church of the Oratory at Rome where musical services were held
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for oratorio

"long musical composition, usually with a text based on Scripture," 1727 (in English from 1640s in native form oratory), from Italian oratorio (late 16c.), from Church Latin oratorium (see oratory (n.2)), in reference to musical services in the church of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Rome, where old mystery plays were adapted to religious services.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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oratorio in Culture

oratorio definition

A musical composition for voices and orchestra, telling a religious story.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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