Psalm 51, 22 March 2015

Completely side-stepping the set Psalm 107 last week (yes, and St Patrick’s Day too although I did have a Celtic style song up my sleeve), we leapt forward to preview that well-used Psalm 51 that comes up this Sunday, Lent 5.

Well-used it is; for centuries it has been sung during Lent particularly Ash Wednesday, Tenebrae services, and indeed as a standard text concluding many vespers or other ‘Propers’. Fragments appear frequently in matins and other prayers; anyone who sang in the Anglican tradition will remember chanting:

O Lord, open thou our lips; and our mouth shall shew forth thy praise (verse 15, BCP)

Just one more on Lassus

If you were in attendance last week you heard a quartet offer a nice rendition of a setting by Orlando di Lasso, Miserere mei Domine. We will sing this again this coming Sunday as Jon leads (and sings). Thank you all singers.

However, in the rather long (apologies, I get carried away by Lassus) post for last week I mentioned a much more ambitious, extensive and famous setting as part of a collection of all the seven penitential psalms, with a couple of extra psalms of praise thrown in.

Psalm 51

It’s a rich and varied collection with one motet for each of the 136 verses included, most in 5 or 6 parts like the example shown at left of the full A minor entry chord for the last verse of Psalm IV (here numbered 20 as in the Vulgate version, 19 in ours: Then you will be pleased with the sacrifices…)

Carnival of animals?

Now here’s an interesting dimension not often encountered: probably imagining the dreary experience cooped up below decks in Noah’s ark, Lassus must have written this so that whenever animals go on another long trip, they can sing in the back of the bus. The lettering against each staff clearly includes Cats, Aardvarks, Tigers and Bears. The 6-part verses have CI and CII, so perhaps it was also for Cattle and Bison as IIs.

There’s a few missing of course — the serpent is off chewing dust (Is:65) and others are lying peacefully together somewhere:

The Wolf also shall dwell with the Lamb, and the Leopard shall lie down with the Kid; and the Calf and the young Lion and the Fatling together (Isaiah 11:6)

But here’s a problem. What did he have in mind for the Q?

Image: Wikipedia commons

Here in Terra Australis, especially to Western Australians, the Quokka of Rottnest immediately springs to mind. But had the maestro ever heard of this modest but noble animal; and indeed, was it on the Ark?

I await your expert advice or comments on this fundamental theological problem.

2 thoughts on “Psalm 51, 22 March 2015

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