Lamentations of Jeremiah – Tallis

By | April 11, 2020

The scenes of the empty streets in our cities these days reminds me of the first verse of the Lamentations of Jeremiah written thousands of years ago: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” (Lamentations 1:1) These laments take on new meaning during this Coronavirus pandemic. Christians have also used these laments during Holy Week as they grieve over the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

The prophet Jeremiah was an eyewitness to the siege of the city of Jerusalem that began in 589 BC and concluded with its destruction around 586 BC. The English composer Thomas Tallis (c1505-85) set verses 1-5 to music in two motets. Below are videos of each part followed by the original Latin text and an English translation from the ESV Bible. The lament is an acrostic poem using the alphabet of the Hebrew language. You will note that Tallis chooses to set the Hebrew letter of the acrostic at the beginning of each verse.

Each part ends with the plea, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.”

For the complete text and more information on the Lamentations of Jeremiah, click here. For the choral edition by Oxford University Press, click here.

PART I (if video does not appear below, click here)

Incipit lamentatio Jeremiæ prophetæ:
Here begin the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah:

ALEPH

Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo!
How lonely sits the city that was full of people!
Facta est quasi vidua domina gentium;
How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations!
princeps provinciarum facta est sub tributo.
She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.

BETH

Plorans ploravit in nocte, et lacrimæ ejus in maxillis ejus:
She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks;
non est qui consoletur eam, ex omnibus caris ejus;
among all her lovers she has none to comfort her;
omnes amici ejus spreverunt eam, et facti sunt ei inimici.
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies.

Lamentations 1:1-2

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.

PART II (if video does not appear below, click here.)

De lamentatione Jeremiae prophetae:
From the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah:

GIMEL

Migravit Judas propter afflictionem, et multitudinem servitutis;
Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude;
habitavit inter gentes, nec invenit requiem:
she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place;
omnes persecutores ejus apprehenderunt eam inter angustias.
her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

DALETH

Viæ Sion lugent, eo quod non sint qui veniant ad solemnitatem:
The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival;
omnes portæ ejus destructæ, sacerdotes ejus gementes;
all her gates are desolate; her priests groan;
virgines ejus squalidæ, et ipsa oppressa amaritudine.
her virgins have been afflicted, and she herself suffers bitterly.

HE

Facti sunt hostes ejus in capite; inimici ejus locupletati sunt:
Her foes have become the head; her enemies prosper,
quia Dominus locutus est super eam propter multitudinem iniquitatum ejus.
because the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions;
Parvuli ejus ducti sunt in captivitatem ante faciem tribulantis.
her children have gone away, captives before the foe.

Lamentations 1:3-5

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.


The Lamentations of Jeremiah Composed by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585). Edited by Philip Brett. Mixed Voices. Tudor Church Music. Sacred, Choral Leaflet. Vocal score. 44 pages. Duration 20′. Oxford University Press #9780193520974. Published by Oxford University Press (OU.9780193520974).


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