Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 28 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Wenceslaus
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

‘When David Heard’: Hear the sound of biblical grief

J-P Mauro - published on 07/07/21

The Gesualdo Six capture the essence of mourning with this 17th-century madrigal hymn.

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

The Gesualdo Six recorded this poignant rendition of “When David Heard” in 2017. Composed by Thomas Tomkins, the tune is a 17th-century masterpiece of the madrigal style. This a cappella hymn is drawn from 2 Sam 18:33, in which King David learns that his son, Absalom, has fallen in battle.

Hyperion explains that Tomkins most likely composed the piece in remembrance of Henry, Prince of Wales, who died young in 1612. The powerful hymn captures the grief King David felt with the repetition of the line “my son,” which dominates the latter half. The hymn became so popular that it was published and used in religious services. 

One of the most striking parts of the hymn is the shift in its perspective. At the outset, the lyrics are written in the third person, explaining the grief of David. The second half shifts to the first-person perspective of King David, mourning the death of his son. 

The Gesualdo Six’s treatment of Tomkins’ timeless tune is the epitome of vocal performance. Aided by their countertenor’s unbelievable high notes, the group brings the passage to life. The ensemble made excellent use of the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral. The high ceilings and stone floors made for excellent reverberation and overtones. 

BibleCatholic MusicHymnMedieval
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
The Sinai Peninsula and the Dead Sea Rift
J-P Mauro
Experts now believe Sodom was destroyed by a meteor
Fr. Michael Rennier
The purpose of life according to J.R.R. Tolkien
crisis man
Marzena Devoud
Advice from 3 monks for overcoming acedia
Giovanna Binci
He’s autistic, she has Down syndrome, and they’re wonderfully hap...
Christ and the woman taken in adultery
Daniel Esparza
What Jesus wrote
Cathedral Duomo
Philip Kosloski
Will souls in Hell receive resurrected bodies?
J-P Mauro
Fr. Kapaun’s remains returned to Kansas after 70 years
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.