The Divine Office
, a series of prayer services, has been sung in the cathedrals and monastic communities of the Roman Catholic church since the sixth century. The Divine Office
consists of eight services, each associated with a particular time of the day: The Office of Matins
begins after midnight; Lauds
begins the morning; Prime
is sung at 6 a.m.; Terce
, at 9 a.m.: Sext
, at noon; Nones
, in mid-afternoon; Vespers
, at twilight; and Compline
, before retiring.
On the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week the Offices of Matins and Lauds are combined, and are known collectively as the services of Tenebrae (darkness). For various reasons the services of Tenebrae were sung the previous evening, rather than beginning at midnight.
Matins consists of three Nocturns, or divisions of the night. Each Nocturns is made up of three psalms, each with an antiphon, and an extended reading. The reading, or lesson, is divided into three sections, each of which is followed by a responsory. For the Tenebrae Matins, the lesson for the first nocturn is taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the reading for the second nocturn is drawn from the writings of the Church fathers, and the third, from various passages of Holy Scripture.
It is the lessons from Jeremiah and the nine responsories provided for each of the three days that have so inspired composers through the centuries. The lessons from Lamentations have been set by many composers, notably Thomas Tallis, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Francois Couperin, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and Igor Stravinsky (Threni). Richard Toensing's Responsoria follow a long tradition of setting the responsory texts. Other complete settings have been produced by Victoria, Don Carlo Gesualdo, Orlandus Lassus, Charpentier, and Michael Haydn.
The usual form of a responsory is:
Respond A+B, Verse, Respond B, Gloria, Respond A+B.
During Holy Week this lengthy form is not available since the Gloria (a hymn of praise to the Trinity) is omitted. Instead, two forms of responsory are employed:
Respond A+B, Verse, Respond B.
Respond A+B, Verse, Respond B, Respond A+B.
The second form is used for the third responsory of each Nocturn, thus ending that section of the service with a formal conclusion. This is the basis of Richard Toensing's setting of the Responsoria.
A full understanding of the responsories comes only from the juxtaposition of the lesson and its response. Maundy Thursday's Matins reflects upon Christ's Last Supper and his betrayal. Where the text is from the Old Testament, the responsory connects it with the events of the day. For example, the lament over the fall of Jerusalem (Lamentations of Jeremiah) is interpreted as a symbolic lament upon the betrayal and death of Christ. The following chart lists the lessons for each day with their responsories.
Extensive liner notes accompany the recording.