Songs of Lament and Praise


Songs of Lament and Praise


voice and piano

  • Premiere: 13 March 2007 / Saint Peter's Church Concert Series, NYC / Two Side Sounding: Eleanor Taylor, voice; Jocelyn Dueck, piano
  • Instrumentation: voice and piano
  • Duration: 15'
  • Text: Ancient Irish texts, adapted by the composer

Program Note

I. Eve's Lament
II. Deirdre's Lament
III. Hymn to the Archangel Michael
IV. A Mother's Lament
V. An Even-Song 

Commissioned by Two Side Sounding: Eleanor Taylor, voice; Jocelyn Dueck, piano.

Each time I reach into ancient texts of any kind, I am struck by how little the human condition has changed over the centuries: we sing in praise; we weep for loss; we fear; we laugh; we dream.  In assembling this collection of Irish texts from the 10th to 12th centuries for Songs of Lament and Praise, I found myself telling a uniquely female story through ancient texts that continue to resonate today.

The laments that frame the cycle's songs of praise center on three distinct characters: Eve, whose sense of absolute fault is both beautifully expressed and painfully unyielding; Deirdre, the tragic heroine from Irish mythology whose love was killed by her king so that she could be taken-and later cast aside-finds an inward calm in the moment before she takes her own life; and Mother, whose tale of loss, devastation, and failure is both timeless and universal.

While these characters speak from within the midst of their own trials, I came to imagine them as individual souls working towards rebirth; towards grace.  Each character might, with time, make the shift from lament to praise-two utterances that, while appearing to be opposites, are offered here as alternate expressions of the same emotional impulse.

Commissioned by Two Side Sounding: Eleanor Taylor, voice; Jocelyn Dueck, piano, Songs of Lament and Praise was completed on 13 February 2007 and premiered by the ensemble on 13 March 2007 on the Saint Peter's Church Concert Series in New York City.


I. Eve's Lament

There would be no ice in any place,

no glistening windy winter,

no hell, no sorrow, no fear,

if not for me.

- Anonymous (10th century)

II. Deirdre's Lament

O man that diggest the tomb,

And that puttest my darling from me,

Make not the grave too narrow-

I shall be soon beside my noble one.

My time should not be long.

- Anonymous (12th century)

III. Hymn to the Archangel Michael

O thou of

Goodly counsels,

As long as I live do not desert me.

O angel!

O Michael of great miracles,

Bear to the Lord my prayer.

To my soul

Bring help, bring comfort

In this- the hour of its leaving.

I choose Thee,

That thou mayst save my soul,

My mind, my sense, my body.

Hearest thou?

Victorious, triumphant one,

Angelic slayer of demons?

Carry my

Fervent prayer

To the King, to the great King!

O Michael,

Come with many thousand angels

To meet my expectant soul!

- Maelisu ua Brochain, att. (11th century)

IV. A Mother's Lament

My hands shake,

My poor body totters,

My breasts are sapless,

My eyes are wet.

My husband has no son,

And I no strength.

Youth without reward,

Birthless sickness,

My breasts are silent,

My heart is wrung.

O great Mary, come to me!

O I am become a crazy woman for my son.

My heart is become a clot of blood.

And Hell! Hell, with this deed, is full!

Heaven! My sense and my spirit are killed.

Heaven! Heaven is shut.

- Anonymous (11th century)

V. An Even-Song 

May Thy holy angels, O great King of mysteries,

Guard our sleep, our rest, our shining bed.

Let them reveal true visions to us.

May no demons, no ill, no terrifying dreams disturb us.

May our watch be holy, our work, our task,

Our sleep, our rest without let, without break.

- Saint Patrick, att. (12th century)

Translations of Kuno Meyer, adapted by the composer.