Lamentations by Robert White

A less-known composer of the Tudor era, White (1538-1574) composed this splendid setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.  In these verses, each of which is prefaced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the prophet mourns the ruin of Jerusalem.

This setting for five voices is performed by the Huelgas Ensemble. This is "lectio secuda."

Two setting of the Lamentations by White survive. One for five parts; the other, six. While Tallis' setting is better known, I'm a sucker for White ever since I sang these in New York City years ago.

The Lamentations were part of the Holy Week service of Tenebrae, which was the Matins and Lauds of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, sung on the evening before those days. The evocative music, whether polyphony or chant, was combined with the gradual extinguishing of fifteen candles, leaving the church in complete darkness at the end, after the final prayer and blessing there is a sharp rap and the one still-lighted candle is brought from behind the altar to signal the end of the office.  The clattering noise simulated the earthquake at the moment of Christ's death. The reforms of the liturgy for Holy Week in 1955/56 eliminated this brilliant liturgical drama for the practice of the Latin Rite.


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