John Tuder: The Lamentations of Jeremiah

Of the life and career of the English composer John Tuder nothing is known. His works survive in two manuscripts; one secular song is preserved in a copy made in 1501, and four liturgical pieces survive in a manuscript written during the 1470s. He flourished as a composer in the second half of the fifteenth century, therefore, and his composition of works for both ecclesiastical and secular environments indicates strongly that he was employed in aristocratic service as a singing-man of the chapel of the household of some prominent member of nobility. His setting appears to have been compiled by some member of the staff of Canterbury Cathedral Priory in the years around 1475. It is a small hand-book, not a performance manuscript but some musician‘s private collection of material of interest to him. It may well be associated in some way with Robert Wydow, who was a priest of one of the chantries in Canterbury Cathedral from 1474 to 1478, and who in the latter year became the first known recipient of the degree of Bachelor of Music from Oxford University. The Lamentations survive in a manuscript now at Magdalene College, Cambridge and is part of the famous collection of Samuel Pepys.


About this recording

The Book of Lamentations consists of five songs. The first three texts were included in the Christian Liturgy for Easter Week and thus, since the Middle Ages have been repeatedly set to music. In terms of textual content the songs don’t seem to form a single unit, although the musical form contradicts this impression.

The texts are so called "alphabet poems" meaning that the first word of each line or verse begins with the next successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph, Bet, Gimmel, etc.). The first letter’s special role has proved an unusual challenge for composers throughout centuries and has produced some particularly interesting formal solutions - comparable to the elaborate ornamentation scribes in medieval times chose for the first letter of each chapter of the Bible.

While the traditional Jewish belief that Jeremiah wrote these Lamentations is today considered doubtful, it is almost certain that they were written at the time of the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. However it remains unclear whether the Lamentations have more than one single author.

For this first recording of John Tuder’s works, Maria Jonas and Norbert Rodenkirchen have chosen to use voice with flute and symphonia. Although it is not possible to clearly determine whether Tuder composed the Lamentations as monophonic works or if the single surviving vocal part actually is the upper voice of a polyphonic setting, DIPHONA assumes that the pieces were conceived as single-voice modal music.

In this recording the vocal line over a continuous bourdon follows the vocal line as it has survived. The flute takes over in those phrases which Tuder left without text, producing a natural alteration between the human voice and the flute. In addition, the flute has been allowed to ornament the vocal line, occasionally extending the music in an improvised polyphonic "super librum". Several sections are further extended through the addition of musical interludes in fifteenth century style.

Instrumental improvisation on vocal models was widely practiced in the second half of the fifteenth century, a tradition which survived in the many early organ books such as that of Adam Ileborg von Stendal dated 1448. The flute interludes on this compact disc follow in this tradition.

Between the first and second section a flute solo has been inserted. It is the single voice composition "O lux beata trinitas", which like the Lamentations is heard here for the first time on compact disc.

The"Italian" pronunciation of the Latin text chosen for this performance, primarily follows the Erasmus of Rotterdam’s linguistic instruction.