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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Lament for Jerusalem 'Jerusalem version' (2002)
The original version of Lament for Jerusalem was commisioned by Father Arthur E. Bridge OAM for Ars Musica Australis. The 'Jerusalem version' was arranged for The Choir of London. First performance at Christ Church, Spitalfields, London on 18th December 2004, by The Choir of London and The Orchestra of London conducted by Jeremy Summerly.
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
50 Minutes
English, Greek
Soprano, Countertenor

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Programme Note
John Tavener Lament for Jerusalem 'Jerusalem version' (2002)
The title Lament for Jerusalem might suggest a work written for the war-torn place that contemporary Jerusalem has become, but this would be to limit and misunderstand it. For me, Jerusalem is a universal symbol which signifies the changeless and celestial synthesis of the Cosmos, and the primordial longing of man for God. The Lament is a sign, therefore, and a lament for the lost paradise that is universal. Titus Burchhardt has said that “Sacred Art recapitulates the creation in parables, delivering the human spirit from its attachment to crude and ephemeral facts”. Thus, Lament for Jerusalem has nothing to do with the endless and despairing ugliness of the forms which permeate the ordinary life of our times, but is rather, I hope, a love-song, lamenting our banishment from home, and the temporary loss of our Beatific vision. So Lament for Jerusalem is a mystical love-song. It is only through love that there can be a transcendent unity of all religions and all manifestations of God. I have taken texts from various traditions, and in composing, attempted to form a unity. There are three elements: the Christic in Christ’s lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23), which is sung by the chorus in the original Greek; the Judaic in Psalm 137 “by the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept”, the words divided between the choir and the solo soprano; and the Islamic, taken from the prologue of Maulana Jalalu-d-din Muhammad i Rûmi’s sublime Masnavi, which is always sung by the solo countertenor. All phenomenal existences (man included) are but “veils” obscuring the face of the Divine Noumenon, the only real existence, and the moment His sustaining presence is withdrawn they at once relapse into their original nothingness. It is only through the love of God that the world, at an inner level, can heal itself in a civilisation of plurality and outward discord.
The music of Lament for Jerusalem should be sung and played with great intensity, but at the same time with purity of heart, always reflecting the mystical, sacred and sublime nature of the texts. Also, although intensely tender, it should have a magisterial dignity, transcending any human dimension. The mysterious words of Christ, “Eklafsen ep afteen” (He wept over her) ambiguously and consistently haunt the music of the entire lament.
The structure of the Lament reflects the simplicity of a love-song. The work is divided into seven Stanzas, each of which contains the Christic, Judaic and Islamic elements, as well as the cosmic dimension of the piece as a whole. Ideally it should be performed in a sacred space or other generous acoustic that will allow the music to ‘breathe’ in its slow, measured pace, as befits a lamenting, mystical love-song. The flutes, oboe and strings represent love, the brasses royalty and dignity, the harp, Tibetan temple bowls and tubular bells ritual, and the voices the Logos (the Word of God) of the three traditions.

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  • Ensemble
    The Choir of London, The Orchestra of London
    Angharad Gruffydd Jones, soprano; Peter Crawford, counter-tenor
    Jeremy Summerly
John Tavener's "Lament for Jerusalem," in its North American debut, unfolded more like a mystical rite than standard choral music. In simple, interrelated cycles Tavener weaves Islamic, Christian and Jewish texts, representing Jerusalem's three religions -- sources for the city's pride and grief. With each new cycle, the piece slowly opens to more power and beauty until the lament finally blossoms into full intensity. [...] The small orchestra provided a tangy, quasi-Eastern music bed, punctuated by Tibetan bells and world-weary groans from double basses.
Tom Huizenga, The Washington Post,02/03/2009
Lament for Jerusalem by John Tavener filled the second half, harnessing both taut structure and expansive expression. It was a glowing performance.
Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman,14/03/2006
Perhaps it is the perception of piety that surrounds composer John Tavener, but any attempt at informality of presentation by the very youthful Choir of London and Orchestra and conductor Jeremy Summerly were doomed. A good-sized house was in a devout mode, electing to eschew applause until it was embarassed not to give it up. It was a compliment, of course, and a tribute to the clever construction of the programme. This is Tavener at his most ecumenical and accessible, but requires playing and singing of great delicacy and dynamic control, yea, even unto the trumpets and tubular bells. Repeating subtly altering musical material in a captivating structure in which soprano Angharad Gruffydd Jones had a crucial pivotal role, counter-tenor Peter Crawford was a model of presence and projection, and the chorus's role is often literally that of reiterating a refrain, Lament focuses attention, inescapably and wonderfully, on its details. An experience to treasure - and roundly applaud.
Keith Bruce, The Herald,13/03/2006
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