Monday, March 17, 2008

French Baroque Lamentations

This time of year I always turn to Marc-Antoine Charpentier, my favourite composer, and play some CD's of his settings of the Lamentations, and some of the Responsories, for Tenebræ, along with psalms therefor in faux-bourdon.

The embedded music is a setting by Charpentier of the 3rd Lesson for Matins of Maundy Thursday (Lam. i, 10-14):

Jod. Manum suam misit hostis ad omnia desiderabilia ejus, quia vidit gentes ingressas sanctuarium suum, de quibus præceperas ne intrarent in ecclesiam tuam.
Caph. Omnis populus ejus gemens, et quærens panem; dederunt pretiosa quæque pro cibo ad refocillandam animam. Vide, Domine, et considera quoniam facta sum vilis!
Lamed. O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite, et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus! quoniam vindemiavit me, ut locutus est Dominus, in die iræ furoris sui.
Mem. De excelso misit ignem in ossibus meis, et erudivit me: expandit rete pedibus meis, convertit me retrorsum; posuit me desolatam, tota die mœrore confectam.
Nun. Vigilavit jugum iniquitatum mearum; in manu ejus convolutæ sunt, et impositæ collo meo. Infirmata est virtus mea: dedit me Dominus in manu de qua non potero surgere.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum, Deum tuum.

Jod. The enemy hath put out his hand to all her desirable things: for she hath seen the Gentiles enter into her sanctuary, of whom thou gavest commandment that they should not enter into thy church.
Caph. All her people sigh, they seek bread: they have given all their precious things for food to relieve the soul: see, O Lord, and consider, for I am become vile.
Lamed. O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow: for he hath made a vintage of me, as the Lord spoke in the day of his fierce anger.
Mem. From above he hath sent fire into my bones, and hath chastised me: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate, wasted with sorrow all the day long.
Nun. The yoke of my iniquities hath watched: they are folded together in his hand, and put upon my neck: my strength is weakened: the Lord hath delivered me into a hand out of which I am not able to rise.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord, thy God.

What wonders, the Lamentations, how moving unto tears; the plaints over the ruined city that once sat so proud, and now for her idolatry, her spiritual fornication - one the image of the other, both profound degradations of all that is good in man - cast down to the dust. We sing them, recalling that the Synagogue was abandoned when she tragically rejected the long-promised Christ; we sing them, recalling that for our sins we deserve to be forsaken not less, but more; we sing them, recalling all the sufferings of Christ's Church, casta meretrix; we sing them, knowing Him Who has taken all sin onto Himself, that from sin we might be set free.

The Second Book of Paralipomenon (xxxvi, 11-19) provides a preface, as it were, to the Lamentations, to be taken in both its literal and mystical senses:

Sedecias was one and twenty years old when he began to reign: and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem.
And he did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God, and did not reverence the face of Jeremias the prophet speaking to him from the mouth of the Lord.
He also revolted from king Nabuchodonosor, who had made him swear by God: and he hardened his neck and his heart, from returning to the Lord the God of Israel.
Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people wickedly transgressed according to all the abominations of the Gentiles: and they defiled the house of the Lord, which he had sanctified to himself in Jerusalem.
And the Lord the God of their fathers sent to them, by the hand of his messengers, rising early, and daily admonishing them: because he spared his people and his dwelling place.
But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused the prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, and there was no remedy.
For he brought upon them the king of the Chaldeans, and he slew their young men with the sword in the house of his sanctuary, he had no compassion on young man, or maiden, old man or even him that stooped for age, but he delivered them all into his hands.
And all the vessels of the house of the Lord, great and small, and the treasures of the temple and of the king, and of the princes he carried away to Babylon.
And the enemies set fire to the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burnt all the towers, and whatsoever was precious they destroyed.

May God have mercy on us, that we not perish as did Jerusalem of old!

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