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.
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