Holy Week has inspired countless settings of devotional texts including The Book of Lamentations where the Prophet Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem. Its narrative prompted numerous settings by Renaissance composers from Byrd to Victoria, that by Tallis being the best known. Reformation composers, especially English ones, took the text as a metaphor for the suppression of the Catholic Church.

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (Rembrandt)

A cappella polyphony later yielded to accompanied solo and mixed voice writing in cantata-style settings by Baroque composers such as Durante, Gilles and Zelenka. While the Romantics ignored the text, a revival last century triggered a stylistically varied response from Ginastera, Krenek, Stravinsky (Threni) and Weill and, in England, a setting by Sir Edward Bairstow. 

1Frenchman Antoine Brumel (c1460–1512/13) captures the despair of Jerusalem with music of great solemnity in these austere Lamentations conceived for lower voices, performed here by Vox Luminis under director Lionel Meunier.

2Of all Spain’s Golden Age composers, it was Cristóbal de Morales (1500-1553) who earned the most fulsome praise from his contemporaries and was the first Iberian composer to gain an international reputation. His Seven Lamentations comprise music of astonishing polyphonic beauty and rapt intensity – qualities readily discernible in this performance by Belgium ensemble Utopia.

3English composer Robert White (1538-1574) produced two accounts, of which his extended Lamentations a 6, sung here by Nordic Voices, alternates passages for two, three and four voices with the full ensemble. Enjoy the false relations! 

4The Lamentations by little-known Italian composer Emilio de Cavalieri (c1550-1602) are for mixed voices, organ and strings. Le Poème Harmonique under Vincent Dumestre clearly enjoys Cavalieri’s startling harmonies and florid melismas.  

5Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) was a lesser known near-contemporary of his Spanish compatriot Tomás Luis de Victoria. His six-part Lamentations unfold with great dignity, each paragraph building towards a highly impressive structure.

6Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (1590-1664) is the best-known representative of the Spanish school of composers in Mexico. His Lamentations for six voices (SSATTB) bring an unusually exultant atmosphere to this highly charged text.

7The eight-part Lamentations for Maundy Thursday by Portuguese composer João Lourenço Rebelo (1610-1661) are notable for their arresting chromaticisms, searching harmonies and rich sonorities.

8On to the French Baroque for Jean Gilles (1668-1705) who creates an expansive response in this Maundy Thursday setting with accompanying string ensemble. Solo declamation and arioso passages alternate with surprisingly energetic choral writing, all beautifully rendered by Le Concert Spirituel.  

9More than two centuries later comes this singular setting of the Lamentation (1942) for the Choir of York Minster by Edward Bairstow (1874-1946). Setting words by the then Dean, the Very Revd Eric Milner-White, it is unique amongst Lamentations for being rooted in Anglican chant. 

10The haunting Lamentations by John Duggan (born 1963) are scored for choir, trumpet and solo soprano. Premiered in 2012, this recent setting is a magnificent expression of the text’s themes of loss, exile and yearning.