Monday, March 25, 2013

Return Unto The Lord Thy God

How lonely sits the city
   that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
   she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
   has become a vassal. - Lamentations 1:1
I made a happy discovery this past week.  Looking for a variety of music to which to listen while at work, I typed "choral music holy week" in the search bar on Spotify.  Among many other things there appeared several choral settings for the Lamentations of Jeremiah.  It turns out a musical setting for this short book was an integral part of the liturgy of Holy Week, once upon a time.
The Lamentations were used in the office of matins of the Holy Week. matins. There are 3 offices, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Over time, the office moved from morning to the night before, so that in some cases the lamentations are named for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: for example in the Charpentier version. At the Sistine Chapel, where traditions died hard, the matins still took place in early morning in the 19th century.
Each office consists in 3 vigilae; each vigila consists in 3 psalms with respons and 3 lectures with respons. The Lamentations were read/sung in three lectures at each of the first vigila (the other lectures were drawn from the New Testament and Saint Augustine respectively). The Lamentations therefore consist of 3 sets of 3 lectures, for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each lecture is ended with the call: Jerusalem convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum (Jerusalem, return onto the Lord thy God) which actually comes from Hosea 14:1.
While there are three offices, the five chapters have been set to separate movements by a variety of composers.  Some of the best are the Renaissance composers  Thomas Tallis, Giovanni Perluigi de Palestrina, and Tomas Luis de Victoria.  I have chosen Palestrina's; ChoralWiki lists sixteen examples from different composers, but these are hardly exhaustive.  In Latin, the text for the first Lamentation reads as follows:
Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae.
Aleph. Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo? facta est quasi vidua domina gentium, 
princeps provinciarum facta est sub tributo. (1,1)
Beth. Plorans ploravit in nocte et lacrimae ejus in maxillis ejus. (1,2)
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum

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