Composition date: 2009
Text: the composer adapted from The Book of Lamentations from the Hebrew Bible
Instrumentation: solo soprano, electronics
Length: 30 minutes
Funding credit: Arts Council of England, Britten-Pears Foundation, European Association for Jewish Culture
Date: May 2009
Venue: Junction Theatre, Cambridge, UK
Performers: Frances Lynch with Electric Voice Theatre
The Book of Lamentations is a sequence of five poems from the Hebrew Bible, reflecting an ancient tradition of mourning poems after the destruction of a city. In this case, the city is Jerusalem invaded and destroyed in 586 BC.
This piece is emphatically not a traditional setting of the text. I've chosen small extracts from each section to make an emotional journey through this very bleak landscape. It is theatrical rather than liturgical; angry rather than comforting.
In the middle of the opening poem, the narrative switches to an urgent first-person voice ("May it not befall you, all who pass by this road"). This voice is clearly female, representing the city itself. But the thoughts and feelings reflected in the text are so graphic and immediate that they suggest a real woman: someone who has survived an onslaught, now surveying the physical, psychological and emotional destruction of her life. Giving some sense to the emotional experience of this women is the main purpose of this piece.
In the pre-recorded music there are snatches of whispered and sung Hebrew. In most instances these are verses from the beginning of each of the five poems. I've also used the Hebrew letters, partly as a reflection of the acrostic nature of the poems, but also as a nod to the many beautiful settings of these words by sixteenth and seventeenth century composers, which often include the letters in an ornamental style before a more austere setting of the verses that follow. The phrase "Echah" which begins three of the poems and is used extensively in the piece, is usually translated as "Alas".