Corporeal and ethereal

Posted on: 3 April 2021, by :

The liturgy of Tenebrae, in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, was until 1955 celebrated at Matins and Lauds over three days, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. In addition to psalms and prayers, it included nine readings on each day, and each reading was followed by an appointed Latin text to be sung, known as a responsory. Originally chanted, responsories were, after the Counter-Reformation, sometimes specially composed as elaborate multi-voice pieces.

The final responsory of the nine appointed for Holy Saturday translates as:

The Lord was buried, and they sealed the sepulchre, rolling a stone to the door of the sepulchre. They set soldiers to guard it. The chief priests together petitioned that request to Pilate.

Jan Dismas Zelenka, composer for church music at the court in Dresden of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, manages with this ethereal setting of 1732 to capture several senses simultaneously: a great stillness at the sepulchre after the turmoil of the execution, the repose of Jesus’s lifeless body, and even the shock and stunned bewilderment felt by those who loved him over what had happened.

* *  This post, on Holy Saturday, is in a series for Lent to Easter, 2021 * *

Zelenka, Sepulto Domino, recorded in April 2020, by members of Collegium 1704 directed by Václav Luks, in the 14th-century St Anne’s Church, Pražská křižovatka (Prague Crossroads), Prague.

Sepulto Domino, signatum est monumentum, volventes lapidem ad ostium monumenti: 
Ponentes milites, qui custodirent illum. 
Accendentes principes sacerdotum ad Pilatum, petierunt illum.

For more music for Holy Week, see the series from 2020.