[awr-uh-tawr-ee-oh, -tohr-, or-]

noun, plural or·a·to·ri·os.

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
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for oratorio

Historical Examples of oratorio

  • Needless to say, it was "not equal to Mr. Handel's oratorio of Esther or Deborah."


    Edward J. Dent

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

    The First Violin

    Jessie Fothergill

  • Not even his Puritanism could enjoy an unlimited diet of oratorio.

    The Dominant Strain

    Anna Chapin Ray

  • The scenes themselves indicate the dramatic character of the oratorio.

    The Standard Oratorios

    George P. Upton

  • The motto of the oratorio is "Love is strong as death, and unconquerable as the grave."

    The Standard Oratorios

    George P. Upton

British Dictionary definitions for oratorio


noun plural -rios

a dramatic but unstaged musical composition for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, based on a religious theme

Word Origin for oratorio

C18: from Italian, literally: oratory ², 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

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

oratorio in Culture


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

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