Definition of oratorio in US English:



  • A large-scale musical work for orchestra and voices, typically a narrative on a religious theme, performed without the use of costumes, scenery, or action. Well-known examples include Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Handel's Messiah, and Haydn's The Creation.

    • ‘Born in Edinburgh, he was a violinist, conductor and teacher whose compositions included operas, oratorios, songs, concertos, chamber and orchestral works.’
    • ‘She has performed in many operas, operettas, musicals and oratorios.’
    • ‘He was also influential in introducing Handel's oratorios to the Boston public.’
    • ‘He also performed numerous songs, oratorios and cantatas.’
    • ‘In fact, the work as a whole is more on the scale of an oratorio like Handel's Messiah than of any typical jazz recording.’


Italian, from ecclesiastical Latin oratorium ‘oratory’, from the musical services held in the Church of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Rome.