Jephtah's Daughter: A History of Alternating Musical Endings

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This work examines the relationship between the endings chosen for musical works based on the biblical story of Jephtah's daughter and broader currents of European thought. Because the biblical story leaves the fate of Jephtah's daughter unclear, commentators have offered two interpretations: Jephtah's daughter is either sacrificed or consecrated to God. The examination of these two interpretations in the various commentaries and artistic works throughout the ages suggest a possible correlation between a given artist's religious affiliation and the type of ending he composed for the story. Although Catholics would appear more likely to choose consecration as promoting the ideal of women's celibacy, no such correlation is seen in practice. Rather, the determining factor in the choice of the musical ending of the story is the dominant artistic convention of the time. This finding is in line with Curt Sachs's cultural theory of a universal pendulum of styles in Western civilization. Thus, the specific choice of the ending of the story of Jephtah's daughter in various artistic media may serve as a paradigm for broader trends of European thought.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: August 1, 2012

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