There is absolutely no doubt that in many respects Marcel Landowski is an exceptionel man and a true musician. He plays a key role in the musical life of his country, and has contributed to the revival of French music through the numerous responsibilities he has shouldered for several decades, responsibilities which have been considerable, sometimes decisive. His many and diverse musical works reveal his creative powers and an endearing personality. True to himself and to the values inherited from his father, which fashioned his education and his life and endowed him with a strong ethical sense, he incarnates and illustrates a model of humanism in which the human being is still at the heart of man’s concerns. Through its melodic, harmonic and formal characteristics, his musical language fully brings out his deepest instincts and develops into a most polished and natural expression. Together with the themes of his lyrical and symphonic music, the substance of this language is the hallmark of his style, in which prevails a sense of hierarchy, a certainty about the nature and function of music. The sounds that pour out give voice to his joy of life, frees his desire to go towards others and offer his greatest pleasures, prayers or meditation: he sings his love of life. In all his works one feels this fundamental happiness of being alive, his need to illuminate the souls, to exalt the hearts. His desire to share his faith, his hope, his love, are the touching aspects of his musical approach and contribute to his metaphysical quest by enriching life through the art of sounds. Marcel Landowski is the very example of a musician, of an exceptional creator, who leaves his imprint on the musical life of our time because of the power of his expression, of his artistic outlook, and of the fidelity and firmness of his ethical and a aesthetical stands.
Why now, at the end of the twentieth century, write a work inspired by a drama dating from 586 BC, the destruction of Jerusalem? Why choose these beautiful and arcane Lamentations of Jeremiah, mourning the solitude of the city, the solitude of a destroyed city? Perhaps I have subconsciously acted on Michel Piquemal’s suggestion, the lessons in spirituality from the music of the Abbot Carl de Nys and, as a consequence, the commissioning of this work, because this long cry of suffering, in reality this revolt against oneself, appeared to me –across the centuries– to be not so remote from the spiritual solitude from which so many soulless towns and so many lost souls suffer today. These three Leçons de ténèbres, on Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, weep for –over and above the solitude of Jerusalem– the remorse of those who forsook Jesus, abandoned one by one by his disciples. This is why, symbolically, thirteen candles may be lit at the start of the work, only to be extinguished one after the other during its performance. Only the thirteenth candle remains alight when the final chord dies away. Every day has three verses and ends in a response: Holy Wednesday is the cry of solitude and ends with the supreme revolt: “My soul is sad, dying of sadness”. Maundy Thursday is the Lord’s call to punish the daughter of Zion, wounded and guilty: Jesus has been abandoned by all those who should have defended Him. Good Friday, finally, is a long cry of pain gradually giving way to a faint glimmering of light: “It is good to await in silence the salvation of God”. This is the repentance. And Jeremiah’s prayer, albeit desperate, opens the way to hope: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord, your God”. This pathetic appeal concludes, before each response, the three verses of these three days. In the course of this pain which, as we sense on Good Friday, will lead to hope, the Leçons de ténèbres constitute a vast triptych which, by its musical language, endeavours to be the music of the Passion. This work, commissioned by the A.R.I.A.M. Ile-de-France, was performed for the first time in Paris on the occasion of the Ile-de-France Organ Forum on 26th November 1991 by the Harmonia Nova Ensemble and the Michel Piquemal Voice Ensemble, conducted by Michel Piquemal.