F. Couperin: Troisième Leçon pour Mercredy Sainct à deux voix

Uploaded on May 18, 2016

The “Hebrew Letter” incipits from the third, double-voiced, “Leçons de Tenebres” of François Couperin, for two sopranos and continuo (which I have realized).

The “Lamentations of Tenebrae” are sequential readings from the Old Testament book of Lamentations, sometimes (questionably) attributed to Jeremiah, written to mourn the 500 BC destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, but interpreted by Christianity as mourning the Crucifixion, and thus read during Holy Week in Roman Catholic (as was Couperin) and other churches.

The Hebrew text which is Lamentations is an acrostic; for each chapter, each verse starts with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (which were also used as numerals). It has become customary in Christian settings, at least from the Baroque and earlier, to actually sing the name of the Hebrew letter in florid melisma with no content but the name of the letter, here Yod (Latin Jod), 10, to Nun, 14. Lamed (12) is the famous “O vos omnes, qui transitis per viam ….”.

Although the whole piece is exceedingly, unforgettably gorgeous, especially when sung by two truly first-rank early-music sopranos, such as on the 70’s Oiseau Lyre recording by (now Dame) Emma Kirkby and the late Judith Nelson (the late Christopher Hogwood direction & continuo) [2/2018- for as long as it lasts, that performance is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Gl5ZnlJXr8 ], including the two preceding Leçons for one voice, I have opted to only transcribe the Hebrew Letter melismata, because the lack of words on the exquisite recitatifs completely defeats the music. The Letter melismata, though, are especially beautiful, and have no words.

I also publish this today in reference to recent discussions here on 2-3 suspension chains with respect to Fux et al.; the first melisma, Jod, is one of the most exquisite examples of this known to me. Most of the letter melismata begin as canons at the unison, second, or fourth; 2-3 chains are often canons at the second or seventh (cf., Mozart Requiem, “Recordare”).

I have supplied mnemonic images for the Hebrew letters, reflecting my own trilingual-pun fanciful confabulations.

I have modernized some notation (flat instead of backslash in figures, double-dots, and the ornament notation, not exactly an "authentic" thing to do.). I have realized the continuo in normative Bach-like style. The figuring conventions differ somewhat from Bach's.

Couperin Lamentations Tenebrae Counterpoint

Pages 4
Duration 02:55
Measures 56
Key signature 2 sharps
Parts 4
Part names Voice(2), Other Woodwinds, Cello
Privacy Everyone can see this score
License Public domain
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