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Historia di Jephte:an oratorio latino


Oratorios are similar to operas but based off of a religious topic.1 One example of an oratorio is Historia di Jephte. Historia di Jephte is an oratorio latino by Roman composer Giacomo Carissimi during the 17th century.2 Carissimi was successful creating the greatest possible sense of drama with out action.3


An oratorio is basically an opera with a sacred topic. Oratorios can also be thought of as spiritual concerts. The matters were religious but surprisingly were not performed in church services. Essential to opera recitatives, ariosos and arias, or set pieces, are also important to oratorios.4 Recitatives were still speech like, ariosos were speech like yet more metrical, and arias were still sung lyrically. Monody was standard in recitatives and arias for both genres (Dixon, Carissimi, 12). Even though these parts were important, oratorios were less operatic in many ways (Arnold, “The first flowering,” 1324). For one they included a chorus that narrated and held a bigger role in the story line then the soloists.5 The chorus filled out the text by emphasizing important parts of the story (Burkholder, HWM:8, 339). They were composed of metrical chords and had very

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little polyphony.6

By the eighteenth century composers left out the “testo”, a narrator, and the chorus was less important.7 Secondly, oratorios were rarely staged and action was described in music rather than acted out (Burkholder, HWM:8, 339). It was also performed with out scenery, props, costumes or action.8 The venue drapery and simple ornamentation were the closest things to scenery they had (Smither, “Oratorio”, 91). Independent instrumental parts were rare but instrumental ensembles were not (Dixon, Carissimi, 48). Similarly to opera they still used a libretto, either in Latin or Italian, written in verse (Burkholder, HWM:8, 339). Normally librettos had two sections and if time allowed, there was a sermon or an intermission (Burkholder, HWM:8, 390). Sermons in oratorios were necessary if performed
in an oratory or in a secular setting.9 GIACOMO CARISSIMI

Giacomo Carissimi was born in 1605 and died in 1674 (Burkholder, HWM:8, 339). He was one of Rome’s most famous composers from the 17th century (Sadie, “Oratorio Latino”, 507). He was known as maestro di cappella, or the chorus master (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 511). Carissimi wrote oratorio latinos, or Latin oratorios, in the middle 17th century and other genres like: cantatas and motets (Sadie, “Oratorio Latino”, 507). Unfortunately most of his originals pieces were lost in the suppression with the Jesuits but his music can easily be categorized in to genres because of noticeable characteristics, like contrasting sections.10 Some scholars would argue that selected oratorios were not really oratorios because the original score is missing but by comparing them to others, clearly they are. Carissimi was the musical director at Ss Crocifisso, a meeting place for the Ariciconfraterni ta del Ss Crocifisso (16th century Roman noble men) (Sadie, “Oratorio Latino”, 507). He composed music for the Ariciconfraterni and the German College (Boyd, “Baroque”, 507). Carissimi’s oratorios are meant for the mass but the Bishop would not allow it (Smither, “Oratorio”, 91). Instead his work was performed in oratories, and palaces for princes and cardinals. During Lent an oratorio like Historia di Jephte, would easily substitute an opera on a Friday (Burkholder, HWM:8, 390). Carissimi set dialogue to recitatives and lyrical verses in arias (Burkholder, HWM:8, 460). He left a lot of room for dramatic expression.11 The source of all of his harmonies in recitatives was his imagination (lbid., 814). For the greatest possible sense of drama Carissimi used lamentation, joy, fear, pity, wonder, affection and indignation all in the Historia di Jephte (Dixon, Carissimi, 14).

Historia di Jephte (Jephte) is an oratorio latino based on Judges 11:29 – 11:40 from the Old Testament. Jephtah, the Israelites military leader, asked God for victory over the Ammonites. Jephte said he would sacrifice the first person he saw when he returned home from battle if victorious. Sadly the first person he saw was Filla, his only daughter, who ran out to congratulate him (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 511). The story line is broken into
three parts: the battle, victory celebration and the laments; or dramatic, narrative and contemplative (Sadie, “Oratorio Latino”, 507). The story emphasizes the Lenten theme of obedience to God (Dixon, Carissimi, 33). Despite the story line, Jephte is performed in one section instead of like others that were performed in two (Sadie, “Oratorio Latino”, 507). It would have lasted about fifteen to twenty minutes long and if the bishop allowed it would have made a perfect “congregation oratorio” for mass (Sachs, OMH, 270). Instead it was held on Friday’s after 1658 at the Ss Crocifisso as a Lenten exercise (Dixon, Carissimi, 33). Jephte is a very popular oratorio and influenced the work of George Fredric Handle own Jephtah (“Father of Music”, 440).

Main characters like Jephtah or Filla sang recitatives. Plorate colles, or weep hills, is a recitative sung by Filla (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 510). She plays the testo, historious or narrator for this part of the story (Sachs, OMH, 228). From victory to grief there are sectionalized tonal changes (Dixon, Carissimi, 34). Switching from major to minor, the lament is in A minor and the mountains reply to Filla’s distress (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 499). The piece is in common time, SSA voicing and the form is AA’BB’ with two repeating phrases per section (Dixon, Carissimi, 46). Carissimi wrote in structured echo effects with instrumentals and two other singers to echo Filla (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 510). In solo sections the text is the most important (Dixon, Carissimi, 47). The instruments and the two singers echo strong words like “ululate” or “lachrimate” that mean wail or weep (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 510). The repeated words are emphasized with melismas in contrast to the syllabic piece (Dixon, Carissimi, 33). These echoes can be thought of as imitative polyphony because the words and/ or melody is repeated by: Filla, the instruments and two other voices (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 500). Little or no repetitions are normal but since they appear it created aria like passages (Sadie, “Oratorio Latino”, 507).

The texture is through composed and the accompaniment is mainly blocked chords with a basso continuo (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 499). For harmonic effects the Neapolitan sixth chord was used to build emotional tension (Burkholder,
NAWM:2, 511). He aimed for an easier bass line made the piece more popular (Sachs, OMH, 229). Simplicity in melody and accompaniment involved the audience more and “brought the piece to life” (Arnold, “The first flowering,” 1324.). Independent instrumental parts, like ritornellos, are not frequent but written in the score are areas labeled tasto solo. Tasto solo means that in the continuo only the string instruments play while the chordal instruments are silent. During these sections Filla continues to sing above the accompaniment (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 503).

In an oratorio the most important part for narrating and transitioning from piece to piece is the chorus (Dixon, Carissimi, 34). Because the chorus echoes Filla’s lament and comments on her fate, it has a bigger role because they emphasize on important details (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 510). Carissimi wanted the chorus to sing in an expected way. For example, if it was the lamentation then it should be sadly sung (“Father of Music”, 440). The text of the chorus is almost exactly what Filla’s last words were in her lament. The text is mainly syllabic and remains in common time with a basso continuo (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 506-509).

In Plorate Filii Israel (Weep, sons of Israel) the chorus is in a six-part chorus, SSSATB (Dixon, Carissimi, 41). The soprano, contralto and bass voices are used to narrate but the tenor is reserved for Jephtah (Dixon, Carissimi, 43). The chorus is more arioso like and the AAB form proves that (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 506-509). The piece has a first and second ending which is normal for the chorus to repeat. The use of suspensions created more emotional tension and the chords are based on accents of the text (Sadie, “Oratorio Latino”, 507). For example, the last word sung is “lamentamini” or sorrow. The basic chord progression in G minor for is, i-iv-ii-V-i-V-i, which are very strong chord progressions that draws the ear to that harmony (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 509). Metrical chords and elementary harmonies in the accompaniment imply that the voices are more important (Sachs, OMH, 228). There is a unity of musical phrases and imitative polyphony is more frequently used (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 506-509). Resting basses indicate the use of imitative polyphony (Sachs, OMH, 228). Entering the chorus normally
it would begin on the final pitches of the previous piece and this one doesn’t instead of tonic in A minor chord it starts on it’s dominant chord (Sadie, “Oratorio Latino”, 508).

Carissimi was 17th century Roman composer who was famous for composing oratorios. Historia di Jephte (Jephte) is a good example of his works in the oratorio latino style (Sadie, “Oratorio Latino”, 507). He altered the operatic style and turned it into a sacred work that took the importance of a soloist and gave it to the chorus (Burkholder, NAWM:2, 510).

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