Five Canonic Lamentations

What can one say in the midst of the madness and mayhem into which our country seems to be descending? The musical response that captured my imagination was the Book of Lamentations — poetic laments about the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Somehow that seemed apt.

The Book of Lamentations is highly structured numerically. At its simplest level the first four (of five) books are acrostics: in each chapter vs. 1 begins with ‘Aleph’, vs. 2 with ‘Beth’, etc. through the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. And much more (see Labuschagne’s work on the numerical structure of Biblical Hebrew poetry in general and Lamentations in particular).

So I thought I would follow the lead of the author of Lamentations and write a set of pieces expressing lament in a highly structured musical container. One may not be able to do acrostics with music, but music certainly has its own highly structured containers, canons being at the top of the list. (“Row row row your boat” is a simple canon. And there’s the famous Pachelbel Canon. See the article on ‘musical canons’ in  Wikipedia).

The chapters of Lamentations being 22 verses long, they find themselves divided into two strophes of 11 verses each. Consequently all the canons in this set are based on two 11 beat phrases.

Five Canonic Lamentations

  • Lamentation No. 1: “Is any suffering like my suffering?” (Lam.1:12) mp3
  • Lamentation No. 2: “Their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms” (Lam. 2:12) mp3
  • Lamentation No. 3: “He left me without help” (Lam. 3:11) mp3
  • Lamentation No. 4: “The Lord Has Kindled Fire in Zion” (Lam. 4:11) mp3
  • Lamentation No. 5: “Remember, Lord, What Has Happened to Us” (Lam 5:1) mp3
  • Score – pdf