Psalm 100, 23 Nov 14

No speed limits mentioned
No speed limits mentioned

Psalm 100 simply invites us to be joyful and worship with glad singing (vv. 1, 2). A short psalm, it mingles declarations of faith with calls to:

enter the gates with thanksgiving, and the courts with praise (v.4)

The old ton(e)

The Old Hundredth will no doubt come to mind for anyone over a certain age who grew up on the Methodist or Presbyterian hymn books:

All people that on earth do dwell

This tune, probably written by Louis Bourgeois for Psalm 134, was a fixture in many old hymnals and psalters. Why? It came from the 1551 Genevan Psalter, a foundational collection of the Reformation movement. It was soon adopted in England and, sure enough, still appears in Together in Song at No. 59.

Psalm 1 from the Genevan Psalter
Psalm 1 from the Genevan Psalter

There’s a certain majesty and sedate elegance about these Genevan Psalter tunes, originally intended by John Calvin to be sung in plainsong without harmony (see illustration at left). However, they do not feature in our list of favourites as they are essentially hymns: we prefer responsorial or even antiphonal settings. (Last Sunday’s Psalm 123 was in fact both. Two cantors sang first and second phrases of the early verses antiphonally, followed by the people’s response. And as an aside, thank you to the many singers who responded to the call to create such an inspiring sweet sound.)

Getting back to the Old 100th, for me it does not really fulfill the psalmist’s call to sing with joyful gladness.

Other Music

Well, what about John Dowland who wrote such lovely chansons for voice and lute? Dowland wrote an English arrangement for Thomas Ravenscroft’s The Whole Booke of Psalmes of 1621. It starts out with more promising energy:

Shout to Jehovah, all the earth!

It turns out that this setting follows the fashion of the day by putting the tune in the tenor and arranging around it (‘falsobordone’; this had the advantage that soprano, treble or alto parts could be easily dispensed with if singers were not available or, it must be said, excluded from the choir by male dominance.) So Dowland’s piece has the same metre and sounds pretty much the same.

Psalms for all Seasons has a stack of interesting choices, starting off with (you guessed it) that Old Ton with the words in a dozen languages. There’s a Punjabi one with bells and Orff instruments; there’s one from Taiwan with drums and bass xylophone ostinato; and then a Taizé round and more. Whew! We could have a full hour or so of Psalm 100 with that lot but will keep it for another day.

Josquin des Prez

1611 woodcut of Josquin des Prez, copied from a now-lost oil painting done during his lifetime. Source: Wikimedia commons
1611 woodcut of Josquin des Prez, copied from a now-lost oil painting done during his lifetime. All images: Wikimedia commons

The time is right for us to turn to an even earlier composition that might at first glance also be viewed as too sedate. This is the SATB setting by the great Josquin des Prez, a central figure in the Early Renaissance. Josquin was born a century before the publication of the Genevan Psalter and incidentally at about the time Johannes Gutenberg was establishing that first, so influential, printing press.

This setting of Psalm 100 has a generally restrained flow common to many Renaissance four-part voice compositions, but Josquin imbues it with a characteristic vibrancy. He conveys energy and inspiration by weaving, varying and imitating tunes and harmonies.

A small group will combine to present this lovely work. They are also delighted to offer a short motet by Thomas Tallis (1510-1585, a little after Josquin) entitled If ye love me.

Two rich gems for our musical offering this week.

8 thoughts on “Psalm 100, 23 Nov 14

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