This has been a big week for German church music, mostly because it turns out that even when I’m singing church music in English, the original is in German. But today, we are heading for France and to a proper Tenebrae service out of the 18th century. Tenebrae services were held on three consecutive evenings – Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Anyway, a particular kind of Tenebrae services, called Leçons de Ténèbres seem to have been rather fashionable in 17th and 18th century France, to judge by the number of French composers who were writing music for them. The texts for these Leçons were taken from the Book of Lamentations, which Anglicans will have been seeing a lot of on the Lectionary this week, though the rest of us Protestants are probably looking on blankly, because evidently we don’t go for that particular book of the Bible at this time of year. At least, not this year.
I’ve chosen François Couperin’s Trois Leçons de Ténèbres pour le Mercredi Saint (Three Lessons of Darkness for Holy Wednesday), because I love their peaceful, meditative feel. French Baroque music seems very different from German Baroque to me – it feels more early music / medieval, more lyrical and less rhythmic.
I couldn’t find a good single video of all three parts, so I have chosen three separate videos below. Note that this is quite a lot of music – perhaps 45 minutes in total. If you have time, I really do think it’s a lovely experience to listen to all three of them. But if you only have time for one, I particularly want to recommend to you the third of the videos. While the first and second Leçons are sung by soloists, the third is a duet for two sopranos, and it is hauntingly beautiful.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.