Roger Marsh Composer

Wormwood note

The wormwood and the gall (1981)                                    Roger Marsh


This is a setting of passages from the biblical Book of Lamentations, whose powerful descriptions of suffering and humiliation, of hope and despair, have attracted the pens of many composers from Tallis to Krenek. The book consists of five chapters, of which four are constructed as acrostics – that is to say, with the first word of each successive verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Most of the verses are written in the metre known as ‘qinah’ or dirge rhythm, in which the rising first half of each line is complemented by a shorter, falling second half.  Within this ordered framework unfolds a moving lament over the fall of Jerusalem, which is at the same time personal and communal, and whose significance is more than merely historical.

But the words of Lamentations do not need to be set to music, and there are too many to set. I have distilled an individual lament from these verses, adopting a musical version of the 22 letter acrostic structure, retaining the dirge rhythm in an almost literal manner, and observing the interesting fact that the Hebrew word for such lamentations is ‘ekhah’ – ‘how’ – the word with which three of the five biblical Lamentations begin.  The title of this work is taken from the last of the verses in my setting:

       Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.

       My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.

       This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.

The wormwood and the gall was composed for the Lontano Ensemble with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain.