From the President – Summer #8

Lamentations Of Jeremiah / Thomas Tallis

Dear Colleagues,

I am moved back into my office after some extensive work in the Music Department here this summer, but this work has not been without some misplaced music, books and a general sense of not being in control; which is the reason for my last choral review of the summer being a week late. I had wanted to end the summer with one of my most favorite Renaissance works, but two things have me baffled. BOTH of my scores are gone, and so is my favorite recording! I cannot explain this, but will write a few words about this work anyway, without having my scores to consult.

“The Lamentations of Jeremiah (The Prophet) as set by Thomas Tallis is a set of extraordinary writing by this acknowledged master of Renaissance music. The text offers moments for beautiful writing, and a long line of distinguished composers have had their hand with it; William Byrd, Arcadelt, Palestrina and Ockeghem to name just a few! Even the beginning of each section announcing the source of the lesson (Aleph, Beth, Ghimel, Daleth) are beautifully set. If there are any words that might describe these settings, I might suggest deeply emotional and expressive; indeed, if you are fond of the music of this period and are able to respond to the writing, you will find many, many moments in these settings of incredible beauty, not to mention the extraordinary skill and masterful manipulation of musical textures that permeate this work. When Tallis died, William Byrd (one of his students) is on record as saying that “Talli s is dead and music dies.”  High compliments for this master composer!

I very much believe that some of this music is possible with high school choirs, although none of this would come without a high level of discipline in rehearsal and in personal preparation. But the rewards would be great and the experience one not to be soon forgotten. Granted, the voicing has  divisis that would make this challenging, especially among the men, and it would require a great deal of independence from the singers. If I had my scores at hand I could be a bit more specific and could give you more detail. I do seem to remember that I had two voicing’s however; one for SATB (with divisis) and SSAA (also with divisis) I do not know which was the original setting, although I suspect the SATB version is most likely.

I particularly remember one section in the 1st set, where the text is “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord, your God,” where Tallis writes the most beautiful music of mourning and weeping and sadness. It is worth the effort to hear this most exquisite setting of this time honored text, and I hope you will. The recording I have in hand is indeed The Tallis Scholars directed by Peter Phillips on the Musical Heritage Society Label, originally taken from the Gimmell Records recordings. However, recordings of this masterpiece are readily available. In this first YouTube recording you can watch the text as the piece is sung.

Lamentations Of Jeremiah 1 (with score!)

Lamentations of Jeremiah 2

Happy listening!


Frank Whitcomb

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