Lamenting, 2007 (21′)
for SSATB choir
Lamenting is the product of an idea, conceived by the conductor, composer, and scholar, Brad Wells (well-known as the director of Roomful of Teeth), to place Giovanni Palestrina’s 16th century settings of the Hebrew alphabet (the “Alef Bet”) in a modern context. Four of the five books of the Lamentations of Jeremiah were written as an alphabetical acrostic; these were set with their Hebrew letters intact by Renaissance composers, offering those composers a rare opportunity to avoid the usual constraints of Latin texts. Palestrina responded with a series of extremely short miniatures that are often contrapuntally and harmonically bold for their time, and beautiful for any era. My goal, in writing Lamenting, was to internalize Palestrina’s compositional voice and write a new work that would combine his voice with my own, in the service of creating a full setting of the Alef Bet. The resulting setting is intertextual, speaking both to and through the Hebrew language, Palestrina, and the acrostic shell of the Lamentation text, with its description of the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem and the corruption of the Jewish people. Lamenting incorporates actual Palestrina settings and references others, placing that music in dialogue with musical elements that are clearly of the present. In forging that connection between the past and the present, from the eras of Jeremiah and Palestrina through the histories of two of the world’s greatest and bloodiest cities, up to the present day, it is impossible to avoid the bittersweet quality that is so characteristic of Jewish history. Jerusalem is still the source of much lamentation after 2500 years, and even as the Alef Bet has once again become the alphabet of a joyous, living tongue, spoken by Jews who live and thrive in the city, the dark clouds of corruption still gather. As much as anything else, I lament that this is so, and that we are unable to move past the problems of centuries long past, but not forgotten. Lamenting is dedicated to my grandmother, Gabrielle Greenstein.