When David Heard

During tonight’s message as our pastor Sam Rainer preached from the book of 2nd Samuel, I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of the most beautiful and emotionally intense pieces of music ever composed: When David Heard by Eric Whitacre.

The text for the piece is the King James Bible translation of 2 Samuel 18:33:

When David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, my son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!

It will be worth your time to find a quiet place to listen to this… with a nice set of headphones if possible. It will move you!

Note: If you are going to “watch” the video, use the first clip, which features the composer conducting the Eric Whitacre Singers. If you’re going to just listen, the second clip is a better recording. It features the Brigham Young University Singers, the group for which this piece was commissioned.

About this piece, Eric Whitacre writes:

As I set out to write When David Heard I decided that my first and most principal musical motive would be silence… Setting this text was such a lonely experience, and even now just writing these words I am moved to tears. I wrote maybe 200 pages of sketches, trying to find the perfect balance between sound and silence, always simplifying, and by the time I finished a year later I was profoundly changed. Older, I think, and quieted a little. I still have a hard time listening to the recording.

What a testimony to the power of music! I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I do.

Here’s a bonus recording! Four hundred years before Eric Whitacre was born, a Welsh-born English composer named Thomas Tomkins gave this same text (a very popular “lament” text in the madrigal period) a very different, but not less beautiful setting:

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