Research Seminar: Dr Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon
Dr Paul McMahon

Handel’s musical and dramatic dialogue: Correlations between tonality and characterisation in Jephtha

Contextualised by Jephtha’s ill-fated vow that victory over the Ammonites will see him sacrifice to Jehovah the first living creature encountered upon return from battle, this paper reports upon the role of tonality in the depiction of character within Handel’s final oratorio Jephtha (HWV 70). As Jephtha’s only child becomes the unintended consequence of his vow, Handel’s harmonic language delineates the title character’s palpable sense of desolation and unremitting capitulation to fate. Striking tonalities underpin the dialogue between father and daughter: in Jephtha’s banishment of Iphis (‘Horror, confusion!’), through the myriad keys and faltering phrase lengths delineating Jephtha’s wretched confrontation with inescapable providence (‘Deeper and deeper still’), and the resignation evident in ‘Waft her Angels’—a serene sanctuary in G major bookended by intense movements in E minor. This paper’s insights highlight the interplay of text and tonality as a framework complementing the characterisation of a theatrical vehicle that crowns Handel’s output of dramatic works.

Tenor Paul McMahon holds a Doctor of Philosophy from Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University and a Master of Music (Performance) degree from Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney. In 2002, he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship for intensive study of Baroque repertoire at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. Paul’s research interests include eighteenth-century vocal music, art song and artistic practice as research; his discography includes the Decca double CD Real and Right and True, the solo album of lute songs entitled A Painted Tale; a CD and DVD recording of Handel’s Messiah and other vocal works by Monteverdi, Purcell, Mozart, Faure and Orff. He is featured on Swoon - A Visual and Musical Odyssey and The Swoon Collection Gold Edition; the ABC’s Christmas disc Perfect Day and the soundtrack to the Australian feature film The Bank. Paul is currently a Senior Lecturer in Music, Deputy Head of School and Convenor of Performance at the ANU School of Music.

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