Thursday, February 19, 2009

Unfortunate Iphis

I have been listening to Handel's Jephtha which is the Old Testament story from Judges with a different ending. In the OT story, Jephthah was asked by the elders of Gilead to help them in the war against the Ammonites, a request which he accepted on condition that they would make him their chief. He vowed to God that should he be victorious, he would sacrifice whatever was first to come out of his house to meet him on his return. He had a resounding victory but the first person to come out of his house was his only daughter, whom he sacrificed two months later. The OT does not mention her name but Handel calls her Iphis, in memory of Iphigenia, Agamemnon's daughter whom he sacrificed in return for a wind to blow his ships to Troy. In Handel's version, Iphis is not sacrificed: instead she sacrifices her opportunity to marry and leaves for a nunnery.
Ovid tells a story about another Iphis. She was born in Crete, the daughter of Telethusa and Ligdus. Ligdus had already threatened to kill the child if it wasn't a boy. Telethusa despaired but was visited in the middle of the night by the Egyptian goddess Isis who assured her that all would be well. Telethusa concealed her daughter's sex from her husband and raised her as a boy. However, Iphis fell in love with another girl, Ianthe, and prayed to Juno to allow her to marry her beloved. When nothing happened, her mother Telethusa brought her to the temple of Isis and prayed to the goddess to help her daughter. Isis responded by transforming Iphis into a man. The male Iphis married Ianthe and the two live happily ever after.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Waft her, angels, to the skies" is a one of the most beautiful of Handel's arias.
No daughter could wish for a better farewell.....

12:25 am  
Blogger Eurodog said...

I enjoyed reading this, WW.

8:08 am  
Blogger JVaughan said...


I may be wrong about this, but the actual Biblical account, while it does say that Jephtha did all according to his vow, or words to that effect, goes on to say "And she knew not a man," then going on to tell us that the virgins would gather each year to bewail her virginity, not necessarily her death.
So could it possibly be that, as in Handel, she did not die after all? The Seventh Day Adventists, at least when the old Voice of Prophesy programmes with Dr. Richards was on the air, believed that. I now wish I could read the passage in the original Hebrew, hoping that might provide further guidance.

So which recording of the oratorio were you playing? I have and play the Gardiner, and find it quite good overall. _THANKFULLY_, except in the Angel's recitative, he does not follow what I personally feel is this _DREADFUL_ practice of using the organ as a harmonizing continuo instrument in airs (it appears that Handel did this rarely at _VERY_ least, usually confining use of that instrument to supporting the chorus and doubling the instrumental bass line "tasto solo" in airs of a stormy character, and those doublings may even have been confined to the orchestral introductions/ritornelli). Yet he does use a lute or theorbo, and it would again appear that Handel, though we believe he used such instruments in his operas and early oratorios, had largely, if not entirely, abbandoned their use by the 1740's, though some hand-plucked instruments do appear as obligati in one air in _Alexander_ _Balus_. I am legally, now close to totally, blind, and, as you might know, Handel was going blind while he was writing this work, and had to break off for a time, during the great sequence of choruses which close Part II., these beginning "How Dark, O Lord, Are Thy Decrees?" Thankfully he was able to complete this great score a while later!

And, having mentioned my blindness, I am _MOST_ thankful that you have chosen _NOT_ to keep the Visual Verification tool enabled since the link for listening to what we are expected to type for that _NEVER_ works for me. If one has the time to do it(as apparently you do), Comment Moderation should be sufficient to keep spammers, etc., out!

Hoping that this finds you and your readers well, and with best wishes,

J. V.

p.s. If I am not mistaken, another popular radio preacher, the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee, also believed that Jephtha did not die. And I was unthinkingly wrong to put a question mark after the first line of that chorus, as well as mixing singulars and plurals in one place.
Since my screen-reader software is not compatible with this writing field as per colour and/or background, I cannot go back and correct errors, though I can add them, as here, at the end.
And one more regretable addition, from right here in this p.s., must be that Dr. McGee believed that Jephtha's _DAUGHTER_, of course, did not die, not Jephtha himself!

9:01 am  
Blogger kinglear said...

As a Presbyterian Scot, I am always enthralled with what is, I believe, termed High Church in the Anglican faith.Although in theory the Catholic Church is all one level, in practice a lowly village priest will practice at a "lower" level than say a Cardinal.
In Scotland, of course, such distinctions are non-existant, unless you are in a different sect like the Wee Frees, and their offshoot, the Provisional Wee Frees, for lack of a better expression.
So I always read with great interest any Church related matters here.I recently had a lively debate with an Irish friend who castigated me for my miserable Protestant Soul, whilst he felt entirely comfortable with "indulgences" and confession. Personally,he said,he only ever confessed those things which could not be held against him as he lives very much in a goldfish bowl of a small Irish village - and although the sanctity of the confessional was, he was sure, never breached, somehow everyone knew.
As a result, he felt less guilt ridden as he confessed direct to God, and was sure He understood Man's frailties much better than his priest....

9:22 am  
Blogger Winchester whisperer said...

Anon - you are right!

Bonjour ED - glad you enjoyed it.

Good morning, Mr Vaughan and welcome to this blog. Yes I have the Gardiner recording. I hadn't noticed what you say about the Angel's recitative. I'll listen to that again. Regarding Jephtha's daughter, I believe the OT says that when she was told she must be sacrificed, she asked her father for two months' grace to go into the hills with her friends to bewail her virginity. She was then sacrificed and women of Israel went in mourning for her for four days every year after that.

9:23 am  
Blogger kinglear said...

If she was bewailing her virginity in the hills, it can't have been beyond the ability of the gods to send a comely shepherd boy....

12:58 pm  
Blogger Ellee Seymour said...

And we think "life" is complicated today.

10:20 pm  
Blogger JVaughan said...

_FINALLY_ I have been able to get back onto this page!

For some reason, ever since shortly after posting my initial comment, I have been blocked by a Google Search page every time I have tried to get back here, which has been happening, to varying degrees, for a while. I tried deleting my cookies, but _ONLY_ this morning did it work!

Now for the belated substance! You are obviously _SPOT_-_ON_ right in your analysis of the Biblical account. Yet further, a re-reading of the passages shows that, in fact, the women did not come each year after Iphisis's death to bewail her virginity, as she had done, but merely her. So what are we to make of that semi-enigmatic phrase just after we are told of Jephtha carrying out his vow, "and she knew not a man?" Is there any room there for Morrell's, Dr. Richards' and Dr. McGees' (apostrophes possibly misplaced) view that God indeed intervened to stop the sacrifice. "And think not that Heaven delights in Moloch's horrid rites?"

J. V.

p.s. As I wrote last time after a manner, I am only able to proofread once I have finished writing, but am unable to return to the place of the error and correct it. I must therefore apologize for one typographical error in the above (and _JUST_ _MAYBE_ one here) plus the incorrect inclusion of the word "that" in the quotation from the Act II ensemble in _Jephtha_.
Do you know _Theodora_, the oratorio which Handel and Morrell wrote not long before _Jephtha_? I am hoping to play both before the week, and this Handel birthday month, end.

10:36 am  
Blogger Winchester whisperer said...

Hi Mr Vaughan - good to hear from you! Well, it is rather enigmatic but my interpretation is that she was sacrificed and that she remained a virgin, notwithstanding her two month frolic in the mountains. The OT God likes sacrifices, and I suppose Christ was sacrificed in the NT although he rose again from the dead.
I haven't heard Theodora - please let me know if it's good.
Best wishes to you.

10:10 am  
Blogger JVaughan said...

This time I deleted my cookies first, and then got right onto this page!

Of course the Lord Jesus's death was a sacrifice, and that in fulfillment of the OT sacrifices, they pointing to His ultimate sacrifice for sin. And His resurrection both conquered death and validated what he had done at Calvary. Had Iphis lost her virginity during her final absence on the hills, I think we would have been told about it.

Yes, I feel that _Theodora_ is a great work, but it is longer than _Jephtha_ unless I am mistaken, notably in its First Act. It is based on the story of a post-Christian martyrdom. Valens, the Roman Governor of Antioch, has decreed a celebratory sacrifice to Jove )Jupiter) for the Emperor's birthday, and anyone not willing to take part is to be subject to death. Didymus, a Roman soldier who is also a Christian and in love with Theodora, pleads with Valens to go lightly on non-conformists, but he is having none of it. So he talks with his soldier friend, Septimius, who, though not a Christian and bound to his duty, is nonetheless a bit sympathetic. Next we meet Theodora herself during a meeting of the Christians, who bids farewell to the world. Irene, their leader, then sings an air in condemnation of prosperity, after which the chorus sings a prayer for God to fire their souls. A messenger arrives with notice that death is near, but Irene is confident, and sings one of the oratorio's most beautiful airs, "As With Rosy Step." After the chorus sings confidently about God's ability to help, Septimius arrives and, after a virtuoso air about the vain fruits of Christian folly, tells Theodora that Valens has devised a punishment for her which she will find more horrid than death, that she is to be taken to the "red-light district" or, if you will, "house of ill repute" to serve the Roman soldiers. She then, after pleading for death, sings what I understand to have been once, at least, regarded as this work's best-known air, "Angels, Everbright And Fair," though, while it is beautiful, I think Handel did _MUCH_ better elsewhere. Didymus then arrives, too late of course, and vows to free his beloved, after which the chorus sings a quiet, beautiful chorus of encouragement. Act II opens in the midst of the celebrations, and, after both the chorus and Valens sing in praise of gods and the godess Flora, he directs Septimius to return to Theodora to find out if she has changed her mind, then warning again what will happen if she has not, after which the chorus sings a mocking remark about "Venus Laughing From The Skies." Theodora awaits in prison, ddisconsolate at first (there is some question as to what form the beginning of this scene finally took), but her spirits revive, and she sings "O That I On Wings Could Rise," though the preceeding air, which Handel may or may not have discarded, "With Darkness Deep As Is My Woe," which is usually included when the work is performed nowadays, is one of Handel's best. Though he only mildly hinted at it in the First Act, Didymus now tells Septimius that he indeed is a Christian and in love with Theodora, and, though Septimius is a bit shocked, he cannot imagine that Venus and Flora "delight in the woe that disfigures their fairest resemblance below." So Didymus asks if he may be given access to Theodora's cell, Septimius agrees, and Didymus sings an air about deeds of kindness. Irene then sings a recitative and prayerful air for Theodora, "Defend Her, Heaven," another great Handel gem in my opinion. Then, in the prison, Didymus tries to charm the guards, but Theodora is at first startled at his appearance. He quickly reassures her, but is surprised and shocked when she asks him to kill her instead of exchanging clothes with him so that she might escape. Yet she finally agrees, and it is here that we have one of _THE_ most beautiful duets Handel ever wrote, "To Thee, Thou Glorious Son Of Worth," in which they both hope again to meet on earth, but sure shall meet in heaven." The act closes with Irene and the Christians preparing for what is to come, with prayer being their refuge. The chorus then closes the act with a chorus that Handel reputedly regarded more highly than the famous "Hallelujah" in _Messiah_, "He Saw The Lovely Youth," recounting the story of the Lord Jesus raising the widow's son at Nain," though Dr. Ruth Smith, in the notes for the McCreesh recording of this oratorio, the one I would personally recommend, disputes that claim, though this chorus is doubtless still wonderful! Irene opens the final act with an attractive air, about prayer again, after which she thinks she sees Didymus coming to join her and the Christians. Yet, of course, it is Theodora, in Didymus's clothes, and, after she sings of how she was released, the chorus sing a rejoicing during which she prays for her deliverer's own release. The messenger then tells them that Didymus has been found out and is threatened with death, whereupon Theodora determines to return his favour by rescuing him.
They try to stop her, but she leaves them to further contemplation of the situation through Irene's final air. We then find Valens and Didymus having a heated discussion in the court room, during which Theodora arrives in time to hear that he is condemned to death, and says that she should die justly, whereas it would be cruelty to kill Didymus. This moves the sympathetic Siptimius to pray for them both, but Valens, of course, is having none of it. The two then begin sparring? as to which of them should die, and, during this, there is another _WONDERFUL_ chorus, "How Strange Their Ends." Finally Valens has heard enough, and says that "If both plead guilty, 'tis but equity that both should suffer," and orders that they be led off. Yet, before they go, they get to sing a duet, led first by an air by Didymus, in which they anticipate what is to come for them thereafter. To close, Irene tells us what is hopefully obvious, that "they are gone to prove that love is stronger far than death." The ending of this work is as close to an unhappy ending as Handel comes in his oratorios, but the _WONDERFUL_ final G-Minor chorus, "O Love Divine," includes an encouraging prayer "that we the glorious spring may know, whose streams appeared so bright below." I hope this was not too detailed, but I am only "doing unto others."

Should you be interested in reading two reviews of a live performance of this oratorio which took place on Handel's birthday last night, you may find them at (that is again, just in case I got it wrong the first time, and Both are glowing.

J. V.

p.s. The McCreesh recording which I recommended is conducted by Maestro Paul McCreesh and is on the Deutsche Grammophon Archiv Label. My favourite current soprano, Miss Susan Gritton, sings the title role.
The woman who sang Irene in the live performance this past Monday night, Miss Susan Bickley, also sings it in this recording. I think she has a very distinctive voice, but brings the role off quite well in my view.

11:45 am  
Blogger Winchester whisperer said...

Thank you for that, JV. At least it's not about Byzantine Theodora!

10:31 am  

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