Eikhah (Lamentations)

Symphonic Poem in Five Movements for Grand Orchestra

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Eikhah (Lamentations) Symphonic Poem in Five Movements for Grand Orchestra
The Book of Lamentations (Hebrew: אֵיכָה, ‘Êykôh, from its incipit meaning "how") is a collection of poetic laments for the destruction of Jerusalem.

It is generally accepted that the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BC forms the background to the poems. The book is partly a traditional "city lament" mourning the desertion of the city by God, its destruction, and the ultimate return of the divinity, and partly a funeral dirge in which the bereaved bewails and addresses the dead.

The tone is bleak: God does not speak, the degree of suffering is presented as undeserved, and expectations of future redemption are minimal.

The book is traditionally recited on the fast day of Tisha B'Av ("Ninth of Av"), mourning the destruction of both the First Temple and the Second. [1]

Its five short chapters contain graphic, poignant, eye-witness descriptions of the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE.

In the words of S Goldman: “The theme is repeated in each of the five distinct elegies which make up the Book; for each of the chapters is to be considered a poem complete in itself and it is fruitless to attempt to find logical coherence or development between one chapter and the next.

“Even within each of the separate poems there is an absence of plan or structure; instead the thought moves this way and that, as indeed might be expected in poems which are the spontaneous outpourings of a grief-stricken heart.”[2]

Lamentations was written by the Prophet Jeremiah, according to some opinions before the events occurred. The verses follow the Aleph-Beit in three chapters, a hint to the three cardinal sins that caused the First Temple to be destroyed. The third chapter (some say added later) alludes to the destruction of the Second Temple, caused by unjustifiable hatred. It contains three sets of Aleph-Beit, as that sin is as destructive as the three cardinal sins put together.

Chapter One

1 How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!

2 She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she hath none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.

3 Judah is gone into exile because of affliction, and because of great servitude; she dwelleth among the nations, she findeth no rest; all her pursuers overtook her within the straits. [4]

The prophet describes all of the suffering that befell the Jewish people at the time of the destruction of the Temple. "Eichah! How is it possible? The proud majestic city of Jerusalem, in ruins! Her inhabitants in exile! Her enemies rejoicing!"

The sages point out the similarity of the word "Eichah" (How!) and the word "Ayecha?" in Genesis when God asks "Where are you, Adam?" The answer to Jeremiah's question - How did it happen? - is that the Jewish people disregarded the Almighty, just as Adam did in the Garden of Eden.

Jeremiah paints a vivid portrait of a widow crying in the night, tears on her cheeks, with no one to comfort her, forsaken by all her friends.

Chapter Two

1 How hath the Lord covered with a cloud the daughter of Zion in His anger! He hath cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and hath not remembered His footstool in the day of His anger.

2 The Lord hath swallowed up unsparingly all the habitations of Jacob; He hath thrown down in His wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He hath brought them down to the ground; He hath profaned the kingdom and the princes thereof.

3 He hath cut off in fierce anger all the horn of Israel; He hath drawn back His right hand from before the enemy; and He hath burned in Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about.[4]

In broad strokes, the prophet pictures the glory of Israel thrown from Heaven to the ground. Jerusalem is on fire. The prophet pictures children dying of hunger, begging their mothers for food, before expiring on their mothers' bosom. There is no comparison in history to comfort you with, proclaims the prophet.

What is the cause of Israel's suffering? False prophets lulled us into a false sense of security. (The Jews didn't believe it could happen...)

All the nations pass by (so to speak) and clap and whistle in disbelief: "Is this the glorious, beautiful Jerusalem that was the joy of all the land?!" Israel's enemies open their mouths, whistle and gnash their teeth in satisfaction. "This is the event we have waited for and have finally gotten to see."

Chapter Three

1 I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.

2 He hath led me and caused me to walk in darkness and not in light.

3 Surely against me He turneth His hand again and again all the day.

4 My flesh and my skin hath He worn out; He hath broken my bones.

5 He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.

6 He hath made me to dwell in dark places, as those that have been long dead.

7 He hath hedged me about, that I cannot go forth; He hath made my chain heavy.[4]

Jeremiah cries over the fact that he witnessed punishment that previous prophets had only warned of. Jeremiah was chosen to express the pain of Jewish suffering. He sees his life as dark, as God has closed the windows of Heaven before his prayers. Jeremiah has been ambushed as by a bear or lion, and is now the laughingstock of his people who ridiculed his prophesies. They embittered his life and broke his teeth. He feels no inner peace. He has no future, yet he still hasn't lost his faith. From the depth of his pain, he turns to the Almighty in prayer. "Remember me and all of my suffering!"

Suddenly: inspiration and comfort! Jeremiah is consoled. God's kindness and mercy never ends. Miracles surround us constantly in life.

 40 Let us search and try our ways, and return to the LORD.

 41 Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.

 42 We have transgressed and have rebelled; Thou hast not pardoned.

 43 Thou hast covered with anger and pursued us; Thou hast slain unsparingly.

 44 Thou hast covered Thyself with a cloud, so that no prayer can pass through.[4]

Chapter Four

1 How is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! The hallowed stones are poured out at the head of every street.

2 The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!

3 Even the jackals draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones; the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.

4 The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst; the young children ask bread, and none breaketh it unto them.[4]

This chapter begins with another description of Jerusalem's destruction. The gold was tarnished, the shine of the Temple darkened. The precious stones (the Jewish people) thrown into the streets! Precious Jewish children, given over to cruel enemies. Their tongues stuck to their throats in thirst and no one gives them bread. The pampered children who were used to delicacies are now picking in the garbage dump. Their bodies so ravaged by hunger as to be unrecognizable. Their faces darker then soot. Their skin shriveled on their bones.

The victims of the sword were better off than those who starved to death in agony. Merciful women cooked their own children! The nations and their kings could not believe their eyes. The blind trip over corpses in the street and are covered with blood.

Chapter Five

"Remember the Almighty!" This last chapter is one loud outcry of prayer, faith and hope. Remember what has happened to us and see our degradation. Strangers have taken our inheritance; our houses are occupied by others. We must pay to drink our water and buy our own firewood. Death through hunger ... young and old mercilessly destroyed. Our joy turned to mourning. Our crown fell off our heads.

Lamentations ends with a description of a desolate Mount Zion with foxes wandering freely about her holy abode. "For this do our hearts ache and our eyes dim."

However, the book ends with a fervent prayer for the future: "May You, Almighty, forever rule on Your throne for all generations. Why have You forsaken your people for so long?" And our final request: "Return us unto You and we will return (the baal teshuva movement!) Renew our days as of old!" [3]

19 Thou, O LORD, art enthroned for ever, Thy throne is from generation to generation.

20 Wherefore dost Thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?

21 Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

22 Thou canst not have utterly rejected us, and be exceeding wroth against us![4]

About the composition:

The composition is not descriptive, however the general "tone" of the poems which constitute "Eikhah" reflect on every movement.

It is not a Symphony in the traditional meaning because it does not fit in the sonata form: two opposing and complementary themes or ideas. Rather it is a Symphonic Poem without "programme", where each movement is inspired from the poems of the book "Lamentations" (Eikhah).

The composition employs a large orchestra, with a full set of percussion instruments.

One main tone-series is used as a "leitmotiv", this series is used as is in the first and last movements and its variations are employed in others.

The pitch material on which all movements are based is in the form of one main and some derivative tone-rows which emphasize the intervals of minor and major thirds.

The result of this selection of pitches creates an overall sound-color which stands apart from the usual distinction of consonant versus dissonant. The music can be at times almost "post-Romantic", i.e. Bruckner-like, but also "pointillistic" at others.

I. How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! - Andante doloroso

אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה בָדָד, הָעִיר רַבָּתִי עָם--הָיְתָה

A plaintive "call" from the Oboe starts the first movement. Strings create a complex polyphony as a kind of "magma" expanding from the Oboe tone.

The main tone row, used here as a theme or "leitmotiv", emerges occasionally.

Few bright sections as "light rays" occur with staccato octaves on Flutes, Celesta and Harp.

A powerful crescendo of the brass section unveils the view of devastated Jerusalem, which emerges as a nightmare like vision.

The English Horn solo over ostinato chords on the Violas and Cellos, punctuated with Double bass pizzicatos is the inner talking of the Prophet.

In sheer horror, the reality surpasses even what can be witnessed or imagined by the Prophet.

The big crescendo leading to the last section brings out two simultaneous solos on Violin and Violoncello. The Violin solo is desperately climbing to extreme high ranges it is mercilessly punctuated with tutti Cello short and strong chords.

The movement ends as it started with plaintive held notes at the woodwinds.

II. How hath the Lord covered with a cloud the daughter of Zion in His anger! Prestissimo
ֵאֵיכָה יָעִיב בְּאַפּוֹ אֲדֹנָי, אֶת-בַּת-צִיּוֹן--הִשְׁלִיךְ מִשָּׁמַיִם אֶרֶץ

A "quasi chromatic" run at the fastest possible tempo on the double-basses is punctuated with down-bow violoncello attacks. This sets the landscape for this bloodcurdling movement.

Held chords at bassoons and violins, mostly made of minor second intervals complete the background.

After that tumultuous start, derivatives of the double-bass running figures are also used, mostly at the first Clarinet part, to create some melody-like figures over a background on harps, Celesta, mallets, this time "piano" and in the high ranges.

Even though the time signature and tempo changes frequently, the perceived ebullience remains constant even at light dynamics.

The runs seen at the beginning start again at the end of the movement, but this time they are cut into short sections and distributed among various instruments.

The movement ends without a clearly perceptible "Coda", as if it is still going on even after the end.

III. I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. Non troppo lento
אֲנִי הַגֶּבֶר רָאָה עֳנִי, בְּשֵׁבֶט עֶבְרָתוֹ.

This movement is an introspection.

It starts with a relatively consonant polyphony which turns either to blasting brass instrument chords projecting the horror which surrounds the Prophet in the real world, or into a chromatic step "leitmotiv" which symbolizes the inner and personal feelings of the witness of the horror.

A developing oboe melody on a soft strings background may remind a similar passage of the first movement. But this time the melody has no possibility to expand, it is being interrupted by bursts of tutti sections.

IV. How is the gold become dim! Molto lento
אֵיכָה יוּעַם זָהָב

The movement is based on the contrast between gold, shine, radiance which are symbolically related with Jerusalem and darkness, obscurity referring to the invaders and the ruination of the city.

Bright scenes, orchestrated with the use of Celesta, Glockenspiel, harps and high woodwinds are interwoven with the dark reality on low brass and low strings.

The unveiling of those various contrasting scenes can be either subtle or sudden, the "past" glory of Jerusalem symbolized as "gold" by the author-prophet may even be superposed over the dark and terrifying reality.

V. Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us. Moderato
זְכֹר יְהוָה מֶה-הָיָה לָנוּ

This is again a prayer, but not a peaceful and serene one as the events witnessed are so overwhelming.

The music reflects various remembrances from the preceding movements. Several discontinued melodic or rhythmic elements intervene to de-stabilize whenever the music tries to get into a calm and straight discourse.

[1]: from Wikipedia
[2]: Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple http://www.oztorah.com/2007/06/eichah-the-book-of-lamentations/
[3]: by Rabbi Avi Geller http://www.aish.com/h/9av/oal/48961756.html
[4]: Translations from: mechon-mamre.org: http://www.mechon-mamre.org/e/et/et3201.htm

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Follow the score while listening to the music...

I. How doth the city sit solitary: Andante doloroso

II. Lord covered with a cloud the daughter of Zion: Prestissimo

III. I am the man that hath seen affliction: Non troppo lento

IV. How is the gold become dim!: Molto Lento

V. Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: Moderato

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Title ID: 6503755
#of Pages: 258
Title ID:  800265535
UPC: 191091041758