About the Track
Thomas Tallis made two famous sets of the Lamentations. Scored for five voices (either one on a part or in a choral context), they show a sophisticated use of imitation, and are noted for their expressiveness. The settings are of the first two lessons for Maundy Thursday. As many other composers do, Tallis also sets the following:
The announcements: Incipit Lamentatio Ieremiae Prophetae ("The Lamentation of Jeremiah the Prophet begins") and De Lamentatione Ieremiae Prophetae ("From the Lamentation of Jeremiah the Prophet")
The Hebrew letters that headed each verse: Aleph, Beth for the first set; Gimel, Daleth, Heth for the second. These letters were considered part of the text in the Latin Vulgate Bible of Tallis's day, although most English translations omit them. Tallis's use of 'Heth' rather than the correct 'He' appears to have been an error
The concluding refrain: Ierusalem, Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum ("Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God") – thus emphasising the sombre and melancholy effect of the pieces
Tallis's two settings happen to use successive verses, but the pieces are in fact independent even though performers generally sing both settings together. Composers have been free to use whatever verses they wish, since the liturgical role of the text is somewhat loose; this accounts for the wide variety of texts that appear in these pieces.
Text for Tallis' setting of Lamentations I:
Incipit lamentatio Ieremiae prophetae.
(from Lamentations, Chapter 1)
1:1 ALEPH. Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo! Facta est quasi vidua domina gentium; princeps provinciarum facta est sub tributo.
1:2 BETH. Plorans ploravit in nocte, et lacrimæ ejus in maxillis ejus: non est qui consoletur eam, ex omnibus caris ejus; omnes amici ejus spreverunt eam, et facti sunt ei inimici.
Ierusalem, Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum
Here begins the Lamentation of Jeremiah the Prophet.
(from Lamentations, Chapter 1)
1:1 ALEPH. How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the cities has become a vassal.
1:2 BETH. She weeps bitterly in the night, tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, and they have become her enemies.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God
Original Hebrew text (without introductions or conclusions)
(from Lamentations, Chapter 1)
א אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה בָדָד, הָעִיר רַבָּתִי עָם--הָיְתָה,
כְּאַלְמָנָה; רַבָּתִי בַגּוֹיִם, שָׂרָתִי בַּמְּדִינוֹת--הָיְתָה,
ב בָּכוֹ תִבְכֶּה בַּלַּיְלָה, וְדִמְעָתָהּ עַל לֶחֱיָהּ--אֵין-לָהּ
מְנַחֵם, מִכָּל-אֹהֲבֶיהָ: כָּל-רֵעֶיהָ בָּגְדוּ בָהּ, הָיוּ לָהּ
Mortensemble members recorded on this track
Bill Heigen, alto, tenor 1, tenor 2
Erik-Peter Mortensen, alto, tenor 1, tenor 2, baritone (doubled), bass (doubled)
According to Jewish and Christian traditions, authorship is assigned to the Prophet Jeremiah, who was ministering the Word of God during the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, during which the First Temple was destroyed and King Zedekiah was taken prisoner (cf. 2 Kings 24-25, Jer. 39:1-10 and Jer. 52). In the Septuagint and the Vulgate the Lamentations are placed directly after the Prophet.
It is said that Jeremiah retired to a cavern outside the Damascus gate, where he wrote this book. That cavern is still pointed out by tour guides. "In the face of a rocky hill, on the western side of the city, the local belief has placed 'the grotto of Jeremiah.' There, in that fixed attitude of grief which Michelangelo has immortalized, the prophet may well be supposed to have mourned the fall of his country" (Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, History of the Jewish Church).
However, the strict acrostic style of four of the five poems is not found at all in the Book of Jeremiah itself and Jeremiah's name is not found anywhere in the book itself (nor any other name, for that matter), so authorship of Lamentations is disputed. The Book of Chronicles says that Jeremiah did write a lament on the death of King Josiah. The work is probably based on the older Mesopotamian genre of the "city lament", of which the Lament for Ur is among the oldest and best-known.
According to F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, "the widely observed unity of form and point of view... and general resemblance in linguistic detail throughout the sequence are broadly suggestive of the work of a single author," though other scholars see Lamentations as the work of multiple authors.
Most commentators see Lamentations as reflecting the period immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, though Provan argues for an interpretation that is ahistorical. Many elements of the lament are borne out in the historical narrative in 2 Kings concerning the fall of Jerusalem: Jerusalem lying in ruins (Lamentations 2:2 and 2 Kings 25:9), enemies entering the city (Lamentations 4:12 and 2 Kings 24:11), people going into exile (Lamentations 1:3 and 2 Kings 24:14) and the sanctuary being plundered (Lamentations 1:10 and 2 Kings 24:13). On the other hand, Babylon is never mentioned in Lamentations, though this could simply be to make the point that the judgment comes from God, and is a consequence of Judah disobeying Him.
Lamentations was probably composed soon after 586 BC. Kraus argues that "the whole song stands so near the events that one feels everywhere as if the terrible pictures of the destruction stand still immediately before the eyes of the one lamenting."
The book consists of five separate poems. In chapter 1 the prophet dwells on the manifold miseries oppressed by which the city sits as a solitary widow weeping sorely. In chapter 2 these miseries are described in connection with national sins and acts of God. Chapter 3 speaks of hope for the people of God. The chastisement would only be for their good; a better day would dawn for them. Chapter 4 laments the ruin and desolation that had come upon the city and temple, but traces it only to the people's sins. Chapter 5 is a prayer that Zion's reproach may be taken away in the repentance and recovery of the people.
The first four poems (chapters) are acrostics, like some of the Psalms (25, 34, 37, 119), i.e., each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth have each twenty-two verses, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth is not acrostic, but also has twenty-two verses. In the second, third and fourth chapters, the order of the 16th letter (ע) and the 17th (פ) is reversed.
Readings, chantings, and choral settings, of the book of Lamentations, are used in the Christian religious service known as the Tenebrae (Latin for darkness). In the Church of England, readings from Lamentations are used at Morning and Evening Prayer on the Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week, and at Evening Prayer on Good Friday.
The Book of Lamentations is recited annually on the Tisha b'Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both of the Jewish Temples as well as numerous other unfavorable days in Jewish history.
As quoted by Scottish Presbyterian preacher, Matthew George Easton (1823-1894), at the "Wailing Wall" in the Old City of Jerusalem, "the Jews assemble every Friday afternoon to bewail the downfall of the holy city, kissing the stone wall and watering it with their tears. They repeat from their well-worn Hebrew Bibles and prayer-books the Lamentations of Jeremiah and suitable Psalms."
In the Coptic Orthodox Church chapter three is chanted on the twelfth hour of the Good Friday service, that commemorates the burial of Jesus.