music for Maundy Thursday

The Holy Triduum begins today.  One of the albums I’ve been periodically obsessing over for a couple years is the magnificent Hieremiae Prophetae Lamentationes by the master of late-Renaissance polyphony Roland de Lassus, as performed by Philippe Herreweghe and the Ensemble Vocal Européen.

The Old Testament Book of Lamentations is a set of 5 poems composed ca. 586 B.C. by the prophet Jeremiah.  In the poems, Jeremiah lamented the ongoing destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem and reflected upon God’s intolerance for sin and our need for grace and mercy.

The Lamentations were a popular sacred music genre in the Renaissance, performed during Holy Week.  The sufferings of Jerusalem described in the texts were seen by the pious as being analogous to those of Christ at the hands of his Roman jailers and upon the cross.

Lassus’ setting of the Lamentations is rich and complex, and the performance by Herreweghe’s ensemble is amazing.  Even if you aren’t into the Christian aspect of the lyrics, fans of vocal/choral music should track this recording down.  When listening to this music, Herreweghe suggests that “…one should imagine these Lamentations resounding beneath the vaults of an abbey, before dawn, sung by musicians involved to the very depths of their beings, for whom the three days of the triduum had a real and painful meaning.”

This is powerful, beautiful music.  I’m reluctant to use it for gaming, because when I put it on I can’t let it melt into the background.  It resonates with me on musical and spiritual levels, and I can’t help but give it my attention…

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