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‘Departed ghosts in living forms appear’: Abiathar, Doeg, and Jennens’s conception of Saul

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Varka, NE 


Although it is not uncommon to find discrepancies between the wordbook and the primary musical sources of a Handel oratorio, even the first page of the wordbook of Saul might puzzle anyone familiar with Handel’s music: the Dramatis Personae names two characters that will not necessarily appear in a modern performance or recording of the work. The first—Abiathar—was described by Winton Dean as ‘a ghost with no music’, and his presence in three places in the wordbook must have been an oversight by Charles Jennens, who decided to refer to Abiathar by his title alone—High Priest—and to reallocate some of his lines to Abner, before Handel even received a copy of the libretto. The second—Doeg—was added by Jennens to the libretto and the autograph score after Handel had begun composing. A discussion of these characters offers new insights into how Jennens approached the adaptation of Scripture for oratorio. By omitting Abiathar’s name he was navigating carefully through a contemporary religious controversy, and by adding Doeg’s name he was relying upon his audience’s knowledge of what is now an obscure part of the Bible in order to strengthen his characterization of Saul and Michal.



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Early Music

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Oxford University Press

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