The expressive melancholy of the Lamentations of Jeremiah provided a rich source of inspiration for such major sixteenth-century European composers as Lassus, Morales, Palestrina and Victoria - and, after 1600, Viadana, Allegri and Alessandro Scarlatti. The texts of these settings were drawn from lessons for the Office of Matins (or 'Tenebrae') from Maundy Thursday to Holy Saturday. Each verse was prefaced by a Hebrew letter and each work ended with the 'refrain' 'Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum', adapted from Hoseah XIV, verse 1.
Settings of the Lamentations were less common in England. Alongside more familiar ones by Thomas Tallis and Robert White, Alfonso Ferrabosco (with four sets), Osbert Parsley and Byrd himself also contributed to the genre. All were apparently written in the early years of Elizabeth's reign and were probably intended for private performance, either chorally or by soloists, in Catholic households. A later setting by John Mundy (c. 1555-1630) also survives.
The text of Byrd's Lamentations is from the Good Friday lesson. Probable musical stimuli were provided both by Tallis, with whom he worked closely, and Ferrabosco who arrived in England c. 1562 and to whose music he is known to have been attracted. Byrd's setting, which dates from the middle 1560s when he was in his early twenties, is characterised by highly charged emotion, modal contrasts and continuous counterpoint - sometimes spaced out, as in the Incipit, and sometimes in close imitation, as in the section 'Cogitavit Dominus'. Although attributed to Byrd in one source, the work is anonymous in its two others (see page 18). However, detailed consideration by Joseph Kerman and others leaves little room for doubt concerning Byrd's authorship.
English Translation From the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah.
HETH: The Lord has purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion; he has stretched out his line, he has not withdrawn his hand from destruction.
TETH: Her gates are sunk into the ground; he has destroyed and worn away her bars: her king and her prince among the gentiles.
lOTH: The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground and keep silence; they have cast ash upon their heads. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord thy God.
In Byrd's day the pitch of sacred a cappella music, particularly with Latin texts, was often treated with some flexibility. In this edition, and with considerations of range and tessitura in mind, the work has been transposed up a fourth from its primary source text (rather than a minor third as with other such works in this Series) without detriment, in the editor's view, to the music's rich textures. Transposition down a tone from this edition (for SAATB), or even as much as a fourth (for ATTBarB), may be considered.