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Monday, May 03, 2004
  Historia di Jephte, a) Filia: Plorate colles
Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 4 Track 38

Giacomo knew how to tell those biblical stories. It is a shame that this oratorio is not as frequently played as Handel's Messiah. Of course, how could Jephte compete with the hero of that story? Handel's own Jephte has not gotten as much stage time. Nevertheless, Carissimi's telling of violence in the middle east reveals a love of language far beyond what we can hear in the more popular oratorios.

Most memorable is his setting of the word ululate. Carissimi took advantage of the frequent vowels in this word to quickly curve the line upward over the first two syllables, and then present a slower, downward curve over the long last syllable. It is anticipating hearing this shape again, since it is present so near the start of the lament, that holds the listener's interest. It is this shape, I would argue, more than any harmonic event, that the listener takes home.

What I like about this piece is how clearly Carissimi understood this Latin text. When we hear the doomed Filia commanding the valleys and caves to echo the horrible sound, it is the Latin that is most compelling. It is set so clearly that it could not be translated and could not be misunderstood. Exhorrescite rupes, obstupescite colles, valles et cavernae in sonitu horribili resonate!

Read also the comments of Dr. James Chi-shin Liu. He is a medical doctor that seems to know a great deal about Carissimi and Jephte. 

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In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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