Lament for Jerusalem

Lament for Jerusalem

2002, 50' Chorus and orchestra

Solo voice: Soprano, Countertenor | Chorus: SATB

Orchestration: 2(afl).1.0.0 | | tbells.3temple bowls | hp | str

Languages: English, Greek

Jerusalem, to the modern and secular mind, is the scene both of significant episodes in the foundation of three major religions, and the conflicts now dividing them. For Tavener, the spiritual fertility of the place itself demonstrated man’s innate longing for meaning; our contemporary perceptions have leached Jerusalem of its symbolic power to bestow that meaning, and we are left adrift. Lament for Jerusalem is therefore not a comment on the present woes of an ancient city, but a love song to a spiritual cradle, a lost paradise from which we have fallen and are unable to find the way back due to the temporary loss of what Tavener termed ‘beatific vision’.

In philosophy, phenomena are those things perceptible to the senses, while noumena belong to ultimate reality, a plane beyond human perception. It is the desire to experience noumena that religion strives to sate, but as Lament for Jerusalem contends, this desire can only begin to be realised through the unifying energy of love; the traditional forms of belief are still phenomena, cloaking the universal nature of their own tenets. The work combines texts from the Christian, Judaic and Islamic faiths, forming a cohesive whole from the basic forces behind seemingly disparate beliefs. The simple seven-stanza structure is intended to reflect the purity of a love song, and the collective presence in each stanza of elements of each faith generates a fourth, universal dimension representing the Divine, or noumenon.

Texts include Christ’s lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23), in which the scribes and the Pharisees are admonished for their moral and spiritual paucity, before the announcement of woes upon them, sung in Greek by the chorus; the Judaic Psalm 137, ‘By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,’ divided between the choir and the solo soprano; and the Islamic prologue of Sufi saint and poet Rumi’s Masnavi, a poetic collection of anecdotes and stories designed to guide Sufis in achieving union with God, which was described by the poet himself as ‘the roots of the roots of the roots of [the Islamic] religion.’ This is sung throughout by the solo countertenor.

While voices convey the Logos, or Word of God, of each tradition, the more abstract concepts behind elements of Lament for Jerusalem are expressed instrumentally, with love represented by the flutes, oboe and strings; regal dignity by the brasses; and ritual by the harp, Tibetan temple bowls and tubular bells. Tavener urged performers to invest in Lament for Jerusalem great intensity, but with a purity of intent and bearing that allows the music to transcend human experience and reflect the mystical and sublime nature of the texts.