Last updated: Oct. 20, 1999
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Georg Friedrich Händel


An Oratorio; or Sacred Drama

Words by Thomas Morell


Jephtha (tenor)

Iphis, his Dauhghter (soprano)

Storgè , his Wife (mezzo-soprano)

Zebul, his Brother (bass)

Hamor, in love with Iphis (alto)

Angel (soprano)

Chorus of Israelites
Chorus of Priests
Chorus of Virgins




1. Overture

Scene 1

Zebul, with his brethren and Chorus.

2. Accompagnato

It must be so, or these vile Ammonites,
Our lordly tyrants now these eighteen years,
Will crush the race of Israel.
Since Heav'n vouchsafes not, with immediate choice,
To point us out a leader, as before,
Ourselves must choose. And who so fit a man
As Gilead's son, our brother, valiant Jephtha?
True, we have slighted, scorn'd, expell'd him hence
As of a stranger born, but well I know him:
His gen'rous soul disdains a mean revenge
When his distressful country calls his aid.
And perhaps Heav'n may favour our request
If with repentant hearts we sue for mercy.

3. Air

Pour forth no more unheeded pray'rs
To idols deaf and vain.
No more with vile unhallow'd airs
The sacred rites profane.

4. Chorus of Israelites

No more to Ammon's god and king,
Fierce Moloch, shall our cymbals ring,
In dismal dance around the furnace blue.
Chemosh no more
Will we adore
With timbrell'd anthems to Jehovah due.

Scene 2

Enter Jephtha and Storgè .

5. Recitative

But Jephtha comes. Kind Heav'n, assist our plea.
O Jephtha, with an eye of pity look
On thy repentant brethren in distress.
Forgetful of thy wrongs, redress thy sire
Thy friends, thy country in extreme despair.

I will, so please it Heav'n, and these the terms:
If I command in war, the like command,
Should Heav'en vouchsafe us a victorious peace,
Shall still be mine.

Agreed. Be witness, Heav'ns

6. Air

Virtue my soul shall still embrace,
Goodness shall make me great.
Who builds upon this steady base
Dreads no event of fate.
Virtue my soul. . . da capo

7. Recitative

'Twill be a painful separation, Jephtha,
To see thee harness'd for the bloody field.
But ah, how trivial are a wife's concerns
When a whole nation bleeds, and grov'ling lies,
Panting for liberty and life.

8. Air

In gentle murmurs will I mourn,
As mourns the mate-forsaken dove,
And sighing wish thy dear return
To liberty and lasting love.


Scene 3

Enter Hamor and Iphis.

9. Recitative

Happy this embassy, my charming Iphis,
Which once more gives thee to my longing eyes,
As Cynthia, breaking from th'involving clouds
On the benighted traveller. The sight
Of thee, my love, drives darkness and despair.
Again I live, in thy sweet smiles I live,
As in thy father's ever-watchful care
Our wretched nation feels new life, new joy.
Oh haste, and make my happiness complete!

10. Air

Dull delay, in piercing anguish,
Bids the faithful lover languish,
While he pants for bliss in vain.
Oh, with gentle smiles relieve me.
Let no more false hopes deceive me,
Nor vain fears inflict a pain.

11. Recitative

Ill suits the voice of love when glory calls,
And bids thee follow Jephtha to the field.
There act the hero, and let rival deeds
Proclaim thee worthy to be calI'd his son,
And Hamor shall not want his due reward.

12. Air

Take the heart you fondly gave,
Lodg'd in your breast with mine.
Thus with double ardour brave,
Sure conquest shall be thine.

13. Recitative

l go. My soul, inspir'd by thy command,
Thirsts for the battle. I'm already crown'd
With the victorious wreath, and thou, fair prize,
More worth than fame or conquest, thou art mine.

14. Duet

Iphis and Hamor
These labours past, how happy we!
How glorious will they prove,
When gath'ring fruit from conquest's tree,
We deck the feast of love!
These labours past. . . da capo


Scene 4

Jephtha, alone.

15. Accompagnato

What mean these doubtful fancies of the brain?
Visions of joy rise in my raptur'd soul,
There play awhile, and set in darksome night.
Strange ardour fires my breast; my arms seem strung
With tenfold vigour, and my crested helm
To reach the skies. Be humble still, my soul!
It is the Sp'rit of God, in whose great name
I offer up my vow.
If, Lord, sustain'd by Thy almighty pow'r,
Ammon I drive, and his insulting bands,
From these our long-uncultivated lands,
And safe return a glorious conqueror,
What, or whoe'er shall first salute mine eyes,
Shall be forever Thine, or fall a sacrifice.
'Tis said.

Enter Israelites.

Attend, ye chiefs, and with united voice
Invoke the holy name of Israel's God.

16. Chorus of Israelites

O God, behold our sore distress,
Omnipotent to plague or bless!
But turn thy wrath, and bless once more
Thy servants, who thy name adore.


Scene 5

Storgè , alone.

17. Recitative

Some dire event hangs o'er our heads,
Some woeful song we have to sing
In misery extreme. O never, never
Was my foreboding mind distrest before
With such incessant pangs.

18. Air

Scenes of horror, scenes of woe,
Rising from the shades below,
Add new terror to the night;
While in never-ceasing pain,
That attends the servile chain,
Joyless flow the hours of light.
Scenes of horror. . . da capo

Scene 6

Enter Iphis.

19. Recitative

Say, my dear mother, whence these piercing cries
That force me, like a frighted bird to fly
My place of rest?

For thee I fear, my child;
Such ghastly dreams last night surpris'd my soul.

Heed not these black illusions of the night,
The mocking of unquiet slumbers, heed them not.
My father, touch'd with a diviner fire,
Already seems to triumph in success,
Nor doubt I but Jehovah hears our pray'rs.

20. Air

The smiling dawn of happy days
Presents a prospect clear,
And pleasing hope's all-bright'ning rays
Dispel each gloomy fear;
While ev'ry charm that peace displays
Makes spring-time all the year.
The smiling dawn. . . da capo


Scene 7

Enter Zebul, Jephtha and Chorus.

21. Recitative

Such, Jephtha, was the haughty king's reply:
No terms, but ruin, slavery and death.

Sound, then, the last alarm! And to the field,
Ye sons of Israel, with intrepid hearts,
Dependent on the might of IsraeI's God.

22. Chorus of Israelites

When His loud voice in thunder spoke,
With conscious fear the billows broke,
Observant of his dread command.
In vain they roll their foaming tide,
Confin'd by that great pow'r,
That gave them strength to roar.
They now contract their boist'rous pride,
And lash with idle rage the laughing strand.




Scene 1

Enter Hamor, Iphis and Chorus.

23. Recitative

Glad tidings of great joy to thee, dear Iphis,
And to the house of Israel I bring.
Thus then, in brief. Both armies in array
Of battle rang'd, our general stept forth
And offer'd haughty Ammon terms of peace,
Most just and righteous; these with scorn refus'd,
He bade the trumpet sound. But scarce a sword
Was ting'd in hostile blood, ere all around
The thund'ring Heavens open'd and pour'd forth
Thousands of armed cherubim, when straight
Our general cried: "This is thy signal, Lord,
I follow Thee, and Thy bright heav'nly host."
Then rushing on proud Ammon, all aghast,
He made a bloody slaughter, and pursu'd
The flying foe till night bade sheathe the sword,
And taste the joys of victory and peace.

24. Chorus of Israelites

Cherub and seraphim, unbodied forms,
The messengers of fate,
His dread command await;
Of swifter flight, and subtler frame
Than lightning's winged flame,
They ride on whirlwinds, directing the storms.

25. Air

Up the dreadful steep ascending,
While for fame and love contending,
Sought I thee, my glorious prize.
And now, happy in the blessing,
Thee, my sweetest joy possessing,
Other honours I despise.
Up the dreadful steep. . . da capo

26. Recitative

'Tis well.
Haste, haste, ye maidens, and in richest robes
Adorn me, like a stately bride,
To meet my father in triumphant pomp.
And while around the dancing banners play...

27. Air

Tune the soft melodious lute,
Pleasant harp and warbling flute,
To sounds of rapt'rous joy;
Such as on our solemn days,
Singing great Jehovah's praise,
The holy choir employ.
Tune the soft. . . da capo


Scene 2

Enter Zebul, Jephtha, Hamor and Chorus.

28. Recitative

Heav'n smiles once more on His repentant people,
And victory spreads wide her silver wings
To soothe our sorrows with a peaceful calm.

29. Air

Freedom now once more possessing,
Peace shall spread with ev'ry blessing
Triumphant joy around.
Sion now no more complaining
Shall, in blissful plenty reigning,
Thy glorious praise resound.
Freedom now. . . da capo

30. Recitative

ZebuI, thy·deeds were vaIiant,
Nor Iess thine, my Hamor;
But the glory is the Lord's.

31. Air

His mighty arm, with sudden blow,
Dispers'd and quell'd the haughty foe.
They fell before him, as when through the sky
He bids the sweeping winds in vengeance fly.
His mighty arm. . . da capo

32. Chorus

In glory high, in might serene,
He sees, moves all, unmov'd, unseen.
His mighty arm, with sudden blow
Dispers'd and quell'd the haughty foe.

Scene 3

33. Symphony

Enter Iphis, Storgè and Chorus of Virgins.

34. Recitative

Hail, glorious conqueror, much lov'd father, hail!
Behold thy daughter, and her virgin train,
Come to salute thee with all duteous love.

35. Air

Welcome as the cheerful light,
Driving darkest shades of night,
Welcome as the spring that rains
Peace and plenty o'er the plains.
Not cheerful day,
Nor spring so gay,
Such mighty blessings brings
As peace on her triumphant wings.

36. Chorus of Virgins

Welcome thou, whose deeds conspire
To provoke the warbling lyre,
Welcome thou, whom God ordain'd
Guardian angel of our land!
Thou wert born His glorious name
And great wonders to proclaim.

37. Recitative

Horror, confusion! Harsh this music grates
Upon my tasteless ears. Begone, my child,
Thou hast undone thy father! Fly, begone,
And leave me to the rack of wild despair!

Exit Iphis.

38. Air

Open thy marble jaws, O tomb,
And hide me, earth, in thy dark womb,
Ere I the name of father stain,
And deepest woe from conquest gain.
Open. . . da capo

39. Recitative

Why is my brother thus afflicted? Say,
Why didst thou spurn thy daughter's gratulations,
And fling her from thee with unkind disdain?

O Zebul, Hamor and my dearest wife,
Behold a wretched man,
Thrown from the summit of presumptuous joy,
Down to the lowest depth of misery.
Know, then, I vow'd the first I saw should fall
A victim to the living God. My daughter,
Alas, it was my daughter, and she dies.

40. Accompagnato

First perish thou, and perish all the world!
Hath Heav'n then bless'd us with this only pledge
Of all our love, this one dear child, for thee
To be her murderer? No, cruel man!

41. Air

Let other creatures die?
Or Heav'n, earth, seas and sky
In one confusion lie,
Ere in a daughter's blood,
So fair, so chaste, so good,
A father's hand's embrued.

42. Recitative

If such thy cruel purpose, lo, your friend
Offers himself a willing sacrifice,
To save the innocent and beauteous maid!

43. Air

On me let blind mistaken zeal
Her utmost rage employ.
'Twill be a mercy there to kill
Where life can taste no joy.
On me. . . da capo

44. Quartet

Oh, spare your daughter,

Spare my child,

My love!

Recorded stands my vow in Heav'n above.

Recall the impious vow, ere 'tis too late.

I'll hear no more, her doom is fix'd as fate!

Hamor, Zebul, Storgè
And think not Heav'n delights
In Moloch's horrid rites.

Scene 4

Enter Iphis.

45. Accompagnato

Such news flies swift. I've heard the mournful cause
Of all your sorrows. Of my father's vow
Heav'n spoke its approbation by success.
Jephtha has triumph'd, Israel is free.
For joys so vast too little is the price
Of one poor life. But oh, accept it, Heav'n,
A grateful victim, and thy blessing still
Pour on my country, friends, and dearest father!

46. Air

Happy they! This vital breath
With content I shall resign,
And not murmur or repine,
Sinking in the arms of death.
Happy they. . . da capo

47. Accompagnato

Deeper, and deeper still, thy goodness, child,
Pierceth a father's bleeding heart, and checks
The cruel sentence on my falt'ring tongue.
Oh, let me whisper it to the raging winds,
Or howling deserts; for the ears of men
It is too shocking. Yet have I not vow'd?
And can I think the great Jehovah sleeps,
Like Chemosh and such fabled deities?
Ah no; Heav'n heard my thoughts, and wrote them down;
It must be so. 'Tis this that racks my brain,
And pours into my breast a thousand pangs
That lash me into madness. Horrid thought!
My only daughter, so dear a child,
Doom'd by a father! Yes, the vow is past,
And Gilead hath triumph'd o'er his foes.
Therefore, tomorrow's dawn... I can no more.

48. Chorus

How dark, O Lord, are Thy decrees,
All hid from mortal sight,
All our joys to sorrow turning,
And our triumphs into mourning,
As the night succeeds the day.
No certain bliss,
No solid peace,
We mortals know
On earth below,
Yet on this maxim still obey:
"Whatever is, is right."




Scene 1

Jephtha, Iphis, Priests and Chorus.

49. Accompagnato

Hide thou thy hated beams, O sun, in clouds
And darkness, deep as is a father's woe;
A father, off'ring up his only child
In vow'd return for victory and peace.

50. Air

Waft her, angels, through the skies,
Far above yon azure plain,
Glorious there, like you, to rise,
There, like you, for ever reign.
Waft her. . . da capo

51. Recitative

Ye sacred priests, whose hands ne'er yet were stain'd
With human blood, why are ye thus afraid
To execute my father's will? The call of Heav'n
With humble resignation I obey.

52. Air

Farewell, ye limpid springs and floods,
Ye flow'ry meads and leafy woods;
Farewell, thou busy world where reign
Short hours of joy and years of pain.
Brighter scenes I seek above
In the realms of peace and love.

53. Chorus of Priests

Doubtful fear and rev'rent awe
Strike us, Lord, while here we bow,
Check'd by Thy all-sacred law,
Yet commanded by the vow.
Hear our pray'r in this distress,
And Thy determin'd will declare.

54. Symphony

55. Recitative

Rise, Jephtha, and ye rev'rend priests, withhold
The slaught'rous hand. No vow can disannul
The law of God, nor such was its intent
When rightly scann'd; yet still shall be fulfilI'd.
Thy daughter, Jephtha, thou must dedicate
To God, in pure and virgin state fore'er,
As not an object meet for sacrifice,
Else had she fall'n an holocaust to God.
The Holy Sp'rit, that dictated thy vow,
Bade thus explain it, and approves thy faith.

56. Air

Happy, Iphis shalt thou live,
While to thee the virgin choir
Tune their harps of golden wire,
And their yearly tribute give.
Happy, Iphis, all thy days,
Pure, angelic, virgin-state,
Shalt thou live, and ages late
Crown thee with immortal praise.

57. Arioso

For ever blessed be Thy holy name,
Lord God of Israel!

58. Chorus of Priests

Theme sublime of endless praise,
Just and righteous are thy ways;
And thy mercies still endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

Scene 2

Enter Zebul, Storgè , Hamor and Chorus of Israelites.

59. Recitative

Let me congratulate this happy turn,
My honour'd brother, judge of Israel!
Thy faith, thy courage, constancy and truth
Nations shall sing, and in their just applause,
All join to celebrate thy daughter's name.

60. Air

Laud her, all ye virgin train
In glad songs of choicest strain.
Ye blest angels all around,
Laud her in melodious sound.
Virtues that to you belong,
Love and truth demand the song.

61. Recitative

Oh, let me fold thee in a mother's arms,
And with submissive joy, my child,
Receive thy designation to the life of Heav'n.

62. Air

Sweet as sight to the blind,
Or freedom to the slave,
Such joy in thee I find,
Safe from the grave.
Still I'm of thee possess'd,
Such is kind Heav'n's decree
That hath thy parents bless'd
In blessing thee.

63. Recitative

With transport, Iphis, I behold thy safety,
But must forever mourn so dear a loss,
Dear, though great Jephtha were to honour me
Still with the name of son.

64. Air

'Tis Heav'n's all-ruling pow'r
That checks the rising sigh;
Yet let me still adore
And think an angel by,
While thus each charm and beauteous line
With more than human lustre shine.
'Tis Heav'n's. . . da capo

65. Recitative

My faithful Hamor, may that Providence
Which gently claims or forces our submission,
Direct thee to some happier choice.

66a. Air Iphis
All that is in Hamor mine,
Freely I to Heav'n resign.
Joys triumphant crown thy days,
And thy name eternal praise.
Greater the bliss assign'd to me,
Greater still attend on thee.
Freely. . . da capo

[66b. Duet and Quintet

Freely I to Heav'n resign
All that is in Iphis mine.

Duteous to the will supreme,
Still my Hamor I'll esteem.

Duteous to almighty pow'r,
Still my Iphis I'll adore.

Iphis, Hamor, Storgè , Jephtha, Zebul
Joys triumphant crown thy days,
And thy name eternal praise.]

67. Chorus of Israelites

Ye house of Gilead, with one voice,
In blessings manifold rejoice.
Freed from war's destructive sword,
Peace her plenty round shall spread,
While in virtue's path you tread;
So are they blest who fear the Lord.
Amen. Hallelujah.

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