The oratorio developed out of paraliturgical devotional practices of the Oratorian order during the sixteenth century. By the seventeenth century, it had grown into an independent genre and spread rapidly across Europe. Giacomo Carissimi, chapel master at the German College in Rome from 1629 to 1674, was considered the main exponent of the genre and one of the leading composers of church music as a whole. So much so, that princes from across Europe frequently sent their musicians to be trained under him, or even attempted-without success-to recruit him for their own courts. Jephte was Carissimi's most successful and long-lasting composition. Athanasius Kircher printed part of it's final chorus already in his Musurgia universalis (Rome 1650), the whole work soon became widely disseminated through manuscript copies, and Handel still drew inspiration from it for his oratorio Samson. The key to the oratorio's success lies in it's text, a paraphrase of Judges 11.27-38, which offered Carissimi the material to create a complete drama of varied emotional charge within a short space of time: Before Jephthah takes the Israelites into battle against the Ammonites he vows to God that if he be victorious, he would sacrifice the first living being that comes to meet him upon his return. The ensuing battle scene depicts graphically with warlike music the devastation of the Ammonite army. Jephthah's triumphant homecoming takes a tragic turn when he is met by his only daughter who in a heroic gesture gives herself up to be sacrificed in order for her father to keep his sacred vow. The final chorus, arguably one of the finest pieces of vocal ensemble music ever written, expresses in increasingly dense chains of dissonant suspensions the Israelites' grief for Jephthah's daughter. The multiplicity of early surviving sources of Jephte, along with the absence of an autograph score makes it difficult to determine the precise Urtext of the work. The most reliable source is a copy in the hand of Carissimi's student Marc-Antoine Charpentier (now in the Bibliothèque National, Paris). Stripped of it's obviously French elements, it served as the basis of this recording. The major differences between the various sources concern the final chorus. Therefore, this movement is included twice on this recording, placing alternative readings side by side. Track 11 represents the shorter and presumably original version, whilst track 12 contains an insertion of eleven bars after the repeat of the A-section, which cannot be found in any surviving source, but goes back to Friedrich Chrysander's edition (Bergedorf 1869). Regrettably, Chrysander never published a commentary elucidating the origin of this version. However, it is believed that he had access to sources in Hamburg and Berlin which were lost during World War II. Although the expansion has entered many subsequent editions and has enjoyed some popularity due to it's daring harmonic progressions, it's authenticity is highly questionable: the absence of early sources aside, contrapuntal faults in this section go beyond rhetorical licenses commonly employed in this work or in Carissimi's oeuvre as a whole. Lastly, in the last bars of the movement, track 12 reproduces the reading of a source in the Royal College of Music in London, containing a written out ritardando. Antonio Bertali left his native city of Verona in 1624 to work in Vienna, where he secured himself a position as instrumentalist, teacher, and composer at the imperial court in 1631. After Giovanni Valentini's death in 1649, Bertali succeeded him as imperial chapel master, a post which he held until his own death in 1669. Directing one of Europe's largest and best funded musical institutions for two decades gained him an international reputation as one of the foremost composers of his century. Like many composers of the seventeenth century, he fell into oblivion soon after 1700; his historical significance and the high quality of his many surviving works have yet to be fully appreciated. The historically unlikely slaughter of the innocent children by King Herod, as reported in Mt 2.16-18, was a popular subject in Vienna and at the imperial court. Relics of the Innocents were venerated at St Stephen's Cathedral and at the Cappuchin Church. Emperor Ferdinand III, Bertali, and his successor Felice Sances composed numerous works on the topic. La strage degl'Innocenti is Bertali's only surviving oratorio. It has been preserved in a single fair copy in the 'bedchamber collection' of Emperor Leopold I and is now kept in the music collection of the Austrian National Library in Vienna. The work is dated 1665 and was presumably first performed in the Hofburgkapelle of the imperial court. For the oratorio's first part, the anonymous librettist adapted a scene from Giambattista Marino's epic poem La strage degl'Innocenti, although only a single line from it is quoted verbatim. It portrays King Herod amidst his counsellors, in fear of being deposed in favour of the new boy king who was allegedly born in his kingdom. Whilst the first two counsellors confirm Herod's rage and advise him to go ahead with the planned slaughter of the children, the third counsellor warns Herod against the consequences of such cruelty and the folly of acting against the divine plan. Having silenced the third counsellor, Herod and his ministers proceed to the massacre. The second half of the libretto focuses on three mothers lamenting their children's fate whilst Herod's soldiers draw near. All tears being in vain, the killing goes ahead. The final chorus bewails the dying children and submits that heaven will take it's revenge in time. Whilst Bertali tends to write conservatively in his liturgical works, he shows himself as more progressive in his oratorio. He creates extended coherent musical units by using musical cross-references and repeats (e.g. tracks 21-24 and 27); some passages are rhetorically daring such as the short trio (track 29) in which the three mothers' anger is illustrated through noticeable contrapuntal errors. Frequent use of chromaticism and diminished intervals serve as means of text expression, such as the threefold begging gesture "senti, senti, Signore" on a falling tritone which punctuates the recitative of the third counsellor (track 20). Bertali's mastery becomes fully apparent in the remarkable final chorus in which imitative madrigal style is finely balanced by homophonic writing, and chromatic density by harmonic commonplaces. Notes on the performance Pitch: Pitch standards varied widely during the seventeenth century. The pitch of a'= 466 Hz (i.e. a semitone above 'modern' pitch) chosen for this recording approximates a practice that was common for church music in many countries. It was certainly used throughout the Habsburg lands and is therefore appropriate for Bertali's sacred music. However, Roman pitch, which Carissimi wrote for, was exceptionally low (ca. a'= 384 Hz or about a whole tone below 'modern' pitch). Hence, this recording of Jephte was performed about a minor third higher than Carissimi himself would presumably have done. Nevertheless, none of the many copies of the work which circulated throughout Europe make use of transposition in order to compensate for higher local pitch standards. Therefore it seems that performances of the work at a higher pitch were not uncommon. Ritardando: The use of ritardando at the end of a movement or section by default appears to have been unusual in seventeenth-century ensemble music. Rather, composers employed it rarely as a special effect and often went to some length to indicate it, either by description (e.g. Matthew Locke: 'slower by degrees') or simply by writing it out in larger note values. The latter is the case in the final movement of Jephte in the copy of the Royal College (see above; track 12). Accordingly, ritardando is applied very sparingly in this recording; instead, long held final notes serve as an alternative to gather excess energy at the end of movements. Instruments: Sources of seventeenth-century music are frequently unspecific about the precise instrumentation of a work, or indeed whether instruments are to be added at all. Careful hermeneutics in the study of sources and knowledge about historical conventions can provide pointers in the right direction. Bertali's oratorio only specifies two treble and a bass instrument for the sinfonias and ritornelli. The range and idiom of these sections suggest violins for the treble parts; the use of a dulcian for the instrumental bass commends itself, because this line-up of instruments was common during the seventeenth century, and Bertali himself wrote several works for this combination. Most sources of Carissimi's Jephte do not call for any instruments besides the continuo. However, the addition of doubling instruments is a common feature in many of Carissimi's oratorios. Moreover, early sources of Jephte in Versailles, Oxford, and Hamburg provide such parts (or in the latter case at least the space for them) for the six-part choruses. Following this practice, in the recording the two top sopranos and the bass were doubled instrumentally in those sections. The same principle was applied to Bertali's oratorio. The nature and form of it's only surviving source make it unlikely, if not impossible, that the addition of doubling instruments in the final choruses would have been notated. The doubling parts were therefore supplemented by the performers.