Rudolf Mauersberger's motet 'Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst' was written on Good Friday and Holy Saturday in 1945 CE (see the composer's autograph manuscript here). The liturgy of Holy Week had gained a new meaning for Mauersberger in the aftermath of the firebombing and large scale destruction of Dresden, including the Kreuzkirche, where he was director of music. Among the many dead were eleven boys of Mauersberger's choir. Mauersberger's setting includes words from Lamentations 1:13: 'Er hat ein Feuer aus der Höhe in meine Gebeine gesandt und es lassen walten' ('From above he has sent fire into my bones, and let it rule'). The text differs from standard English translations—NRSV has 'From on high he sent fire; it went deep into my bones'—due to a different interpretion of the Hebrew, and is particularly striking here. This verse, originally written to describe God's destruction of Jerusalem, finds a poignant new home in a city destroyed by incendiary bombs. The setting is largely very quiet and expresses despair and sadness, but also hope for salvation. With the translation of the Bible into the spoken languages of Europe from the sixteenth century CE onwards, the biblical text became part of everyday experience. European Christians understood many of the texts to refer not only to the real city of Jerusalem and its environs, but also to their own homelands, as this setting illustrates. It may be troublesome to some to see a German composer use biblical texts to lament the destruction of his city during World War II, in which Germany destroyed so many cities and killed 6,000,000 Jews. Some have accused Mauersberger of not including a clear statement of German guilt in his selection of texts. The inclusion of the last few lines, however, requesting that God bring 'us' back to him, may be understood as a recognition that contemporary Germans were far from God (the Lutheran understanding of sinfulness). The setting also uses both the beginning and end of the text of Lamentations, indicating that the hearer is to understand the entire text as part of the work, including Lamentations 5:16b: 'Woe for us, for we have sinned!'.
In ancient times as in modern, both religious and non-religious life often involved music. Several ancient instruments are shown above. The flute above is made of bone, with incised decoration at the top and bottom. It was found at En-Gedi, near the Dead Sea. It is one of several similar flutes known as 'Megiddo-type flutes', named after a famous example from Megiddo. These flutes tend to be between 7 and 12cm long, are generally made of bird or goat bones, and have a hole in the center. They produce a shrill tone and have been found in a variety of contexts. There is no specific information known about their use; they may have been children’s toys, cultic instruments, domestic instruments, or even amulets. The rattle is made of pottery and decorated with painted red lines. It was found with another rattle under a layer of ash at Hazor, in a large house that had suffered a violent destruction. Similar rattles have been found in tombs in Samaria. The conch trumpet is made from a large shell (Charonia tritonis), with the point snapped off to form a mouthpiece and a small hole pierced near the end. It was found inside a casemate wall at Hazor, where it may have been used as a signal-horn. Conch trumpets are known in the Levant from the third millennium BCE. Almost all were found within areas connected with the Phoenician or Philistine cultural spheres—as one would expect, given they are made from sea-shells!Musical activity is also attested by the figurine of a double flute player and the cult stand from Ashdod with musicians on it.
The most famous of all settings of Lamentations is that composed by Thomas Tallis in the middle of the sixteenth century CE. By the time that Tallis composed this work, the text of the Lamentations was an established part of the liturgy of Holy Week. European Christianity thus used the texts of the Lamentations—which had been written either as a direct reaction to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, or in order to recall the horror of the destruction during the rededication of the newly rebuilt temple in the late sixth century BCE—to express despair at the liturgically re-lived crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Tallis used the Latin text of the Vulgate translation of the Bible. The Hebrew poetry of Lamentations used a stylistic device quite common in Semitic languages: it was written as an acrostic. Instead of spelling out a word or name with the first letter of each verse, Lamentations goes through the letters of the alphabet in their Hebrew order—aleph, bet, gimel, daleth, he, and so on. In order to preserve this feature, the Vulgate translation has the name of the Hebrew letters preceding each verse, and Tallis, like most other composers included that into his music. By Tallis' time, it had already become common to compose the names of the Hebrew letters in a different style to the rest of the setting, perhaps comparable to the way the first letter in an illuminated manuscript often differed from that of other letters on the same page.
Like other composers working with Lamentations, John Mundy used the names of Hebrew letters to structure his music. The Hebrew text of Lamentations begins each line of a verse with the same letter, beginning with the first letter of the alphabet: thus the the first verse starts with א (aleph), the second verse begins with ב (bet) and on through the alphabet. The tradition of attempting to convey this in musical works comes via the Latin Vulgate translation of Lamentations, in which each verse was preceded by the name of a Hebrew letter. In musical works these letters are often used to give room to the musical abilities of the composer—they function a little bit like the large letters in an illuminated manuscript. Where Mundy's Lamentations differs from those by his predecessors is that, apart from the title and the Hebrew letters, he does not use the text of the Lamentations. Instead his Latin text expresses anguish about the schisms in the Roman Catholic Church that arose during the Reformation. This creative use of both the form and the name of Lamentations, in order to evoke the anguish which the Lamentations so powerfully express, demonstrates the extent to which the upheavals of the Reformation were perceived by Mundy and others in the sixteenth century as a disaster—comparable to the destruction of Jerusalem—and, indeed, a disaster for the Church's conception of itself as a New Jerusalem.
John Duggan's Lamentation is at the same time both quite unusual and quite traditional in its setting of this now-classic text. Unusually, he adds a soprano soloist and a solo trumpet to the more common choral sound. His choice of text, however, is quite traditional, using the traditional introduction, 'here begins the Lamentation of Jeremiah', which is not from the Hebrew text but inferred from the Greek Septuagint; he finishes with a quote from Hosea 14:1 ('Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto your God'). Like the piece by Cecilia McDowall, Duggan's composition showcases the best in modern British composition, combining tradition features with departures from tradition in order to bring the ancient text and expression of liturgy to a modern audience.