The Choice of Hercules
Oratorio by George Frideric Handel
Handel portrayed by Balthasar Denner, 1729
CatalogueHWV 69
Year1750 (1750)
Textderived from "Choice of Hercules" by Robert Lowth
Based onChoice of Hercules
Performed1 March 1751 (1751-03-01): London Royal Opera House

The Choice of Hercules (HWV 69) is an oratorio in one act (three scenes) by George Frideric Handel. Handel produced the score between 28 June and 5 July 1750. The first performance was given on 1 March 1751 at the Covent Garden Theatre, London with Cecilia Young as Virtue, Isabella Young as Hercules, and Thomas Lowe as attendant. The libretto is derived from the poem (1743) of Robert Lowth but revised, probably, by Thomas Morell.

The story centres on the Choice of Hercules, in which the youthful Hercules must decide between the paths of pleasure and virtue. These are represented by two women who present their various arguments to Hercules, and his confusion is articulated in the trio Where shall I go?. The classical myth of "the choice of Hercules," as told by the 5th-century Athenian sophist Prodicus (Xenophon Memorabilia 2.1.21-34), anticipates that Hercules will choose to follow Virtue's path. And, indeed, the Chorus sings ( Chorus, 24) that "Virtue will place thee in that blest abode, Crown'd with immortal youth, Among the gods a god!"

The character of The Attendant on Pleasure is introduced into this version of the Choice of Hercules and complicates Hercules' choice (Air, 16).

A typical performance takes almost 50 minutes.

The work includes the notable aria Yet can I hear that dulcet lay.

Dramatis personae


The work has the following movements:

Movement Type Character Text
1 Sinfonia
2 Accompagnato Pleasure See Hercules! how smiles yon myrtle plain
3 Air Pleasure Come, blooming boy
4 Air Pleasure There the brisk sparkling nectar drain
5 Solo and Chorus Pleasure While for thy arms that beauty glows
6 Recitative Virtue Away, mistaken wretch, away!
7 Air Virtue This manly youth's exalted mind
8 Recitative Virtue Rise, youth! exalt thyself and me
9 Air Virtue Go, assert thy heav'nly race
10 Recitative Virtue In peace, in war
11 Solo and Chorus Virtue So shalt thou gain immortal praise
12 Recitative Pleasure Hearst thou, what dangers then thou must engage?
13 Solo and Chorus Pleasure Turn thee, youth, to joy and love
14 Recitative Pleasure and Hercules Short is my way, fair, easy, smooth and plain
15 Air Hercules Yet, can I hear that dulcet lay
16 Air Attendant on Pleasure Enjoy the sweet Elysian grove
17 Recitative Hercules Oh! whither, reason, dost thou fly?
18 Trio Hercules, Pleasure and Virtue Where shall I go?
19 Recitative Virtue Mount, mount the steep ascent
20 Air Virtue Mount, mount the steep ascent
21 Chorus Arise! mount the steep ascent
22 Recitative Hercules The sounds breathe fire
23 Air Hercules Lead, goddess, lead the way!
24 Chorus Virtue will place thee in that blest abode


Hyperion Records label received the 2003 International Handel Recording Prize for their recording of The Choice of Hercules.