Lament & Hope, and knocking at Heaven’s Door
Music offers comfort and a way to express profound emotions, accompanying our life's journey
Death is the end of life, but it is also an inseparable part of our human journey in this world. Yet, it is never expected and every passing leaves people in sorrow. Sometimes with the departure of a significant figure it may seem that formalities take over but there may also be an outpour of public grief. On the other end, there is immense private pain of the family, friends and the loved ones left in sadness.
Music accompanies our life’s journey, and provides a way to reflect on this human destiny. It can also offer comfort to those who mourn.
Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III was a patron of music, and a composer. One of his musicians was Johann Jakob Froberger (1616 – 1667) who could also be counted among the monarch’s friends. When the Emperor died in Vienna in 1657, Froberger wrote a touching tribute:
Lamentation faîte sur la mort très douloureuse de Sa Majesté Impériale, Ferdinand le troisieme; et se joüe lentement avec discretion. An 1657.
The title translates as:
Lament upon the very sorrowful death of His Imperial Majesty Ferdinand III; to be played slowly and with discretion. Year 1657.
In this musical Tombeau the composer takes us through different emotions, starting with a strikingly dark opening in F minor that could be seen as the depiction of hollow and emptiness. A more dramatic section that follows develops into an urgent protest, or perhaps a denial – and maybe even a loud, cried out “Why?” so very familiar to anyone who endured their loved one’s passing. As if exhausted with grief, music then calms down, and meanders through unstable A flat major, searching for sense, and yearning for rest. This major key is perhaps the first ray of hope, however, it tumbles back into darkness and desperation, more introvert this time.
Death is not the end, according to many faiths, and this extraordinary Lament concludes with a raising F major chord – one of the purest in most temperaments – and with three repeated notes: the Emperor’s soul knocking at Heaven’s Door…
Memento mori, remember that you have to die.
Reflection upon the impermanence of human life has been a source of countless works of art and concepts: danse macabre, images of skull and bones, autumn, wilted flowers: visual arts, poetry, architecture… It was a call and an inspiration to live a better life, a reference to the vanity of the mundane, and the hope of afterlife.
Among Froberger’s fantastic works there is a:
Meditation made on my future death, which is to be played slowly and with discretion. In Paris, 1 May of the Year 1660.
or in the French original:
Meditation faite sur ma mort future, la quelle se joüe lentement avec discretion â Paris 1 May Anno 1660.
This Suite’s opening Allemande is followed by a Gigue, Courante and Sarabande (as the last movement). This Allemande, a free improvisatory piece in stylus phantasticus, has a very different mood to the Lamenation above. It is much brighter, less dramatic and much more reflective. A meditation rather than and complaint, finishing in major, and followed by the composer’s note:
NB: Memento mori Froberger
With respect and reflection on the passing of HM The Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022